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LIVES   OF  BRITISH  ENGINEERS,  from  the  Earliest  Times 

to  the  Death  of  Robert  Stephenson ;  with  an  Account  of  their  Principal 
Portraits  and  270  Woodcuts.  3  Vols.  8vo.  63s. 

DUCT.   Post  8vo.    6s. 


Illustres  a  1'aide  de  Biographic.  Traduit  de  1'Anglais  par  ALFRED  TALAN- 
DIEB  sur  le  texte  revu  et  corrige  par  1'Auteur.  Post  8vo.  5s. 

MAKERS.    A  Companion  Volume  to  '  Self-Help.'    Post  8vo.    6s. 


[Abridged  from  '  Lives  of  the  Engineers.']  With  Illustrations.    Post  Svo.  6s. 


INCLUDING   A   MEMOIR    OF    HIS    SON    ROBERT    STEPHENSON.      [Abridged    fTOTK 

•  Lives  of  the  Engineers.']    With  Illustrations.    Post  Svo.    6s. 


Reprinted  from  the  '  Quarterly  Review.'    Post  Svo.    Is.  6d. 

bv  W.Ho-H',  after  th&  porfrait  ~bv  Sir  1/9 

1'  by  Joht 











The  right  of  Tiunslation  -is  ftscfced. 






THE  present  volume  concludes  the  author's  'Lives  of 
the  Engineers.'  Its  preparation  was  begun  many  years 
since.  The  favourable  reception  given  to  the  '  Life 
of  George  Stephenson,'  the  principal  improver  and 
introducer  of  the  locomotive  engine,  encouraged  the 
author  to  follow  it  by  a  Life  of  James  Watt,  the  prin- 
cipal inventor  and  introducer  of  the  condensing  engine. 
On  making  inquiries,  however,  he  found  that  the 
subject  had  already  been  taken  in  hand  by  J.  P.  Muir- 
head,  Esq.,  the  literary  executor  of  the  late  Mr.  Watt, 
of  Aston  Hall,  near  Birmingham.  As  Mr.  Muirhead 
was  in  all  respects  entitled  to  precedence,  and  was, 
moreover,  in  possession  of  the  best  sources  of  informa- 
tion, the  author's  contemplated  Life  of  Watt  was 
abandoned,  and  he  satisfied  himself  with  embodying 
the  substance  of  the  materials  he  had  collected  in  a 
review  of  Mr.  Muirhead's  work,  which  appeared  in  the 
'  Quarterly  Eeview'  for  July,  1858. 

Having  recently,  however,  through  the  kindness 
of  M.  P.  W.  Boulton,  Esq.,  of  Tew  Park,  Oxon,  been 
enabled  to  examine  the  extensive  collection  of  docu- 
ments brought  from  Soho,  including  the  original  corre- 
spondence between  Watt  and  Small,  between  Watt  and 
Boulton,  and  between  the  latter  and  his  numerous 


intimate  friends  and  business  correspondents,  it  has 
appeared  to  the  author  that,  notwithstanding  the  valu- 
able publications  of  Mr.  Muirhead,  the  story  of  the  life 
of  Watt  is  one  that  will  well  bear  to  be  told  again,  in 
connexion  with  the  life  and  labours  of  Matthew  Boulton 
of  Soho.  The  two  men  were  so  intimately  related 
during  the  most  important  period  of  their  lives,  and 
their  biographies  so  closely  intermingle,  that  it  is  almost 
impossible  to  separate  them.  They  are  therefore  treated 
conjointly  in  the  present  volume,  under  the  title  of 
4  Boulton  and  Watt,'  the  name  of  the  old  Soho  firm 
which  so  long  enjoyed  a  world- wide  reputation.  But 
though  the  name  of  Boulton  takes  priority  in  the  title, 
that  of  Watt  will  be  found  in  many  respects  the  most 
prominent  in  the  narrative. 

The  MS.  papers  which  have  been  consulted  for  the 
purposes  of  the  present  volume  are  of  an  unusually 
complete  and  varied  character.  They  consist  of  several 
thousand  documents  selected  from  the  tons  of  busi- 
ness books  and  correspondence  which  had  accumulated  at 
Soho.  The  most  important  were  selected  and  arranged 
by  the  late  M.  Eobinson  Boulton,  Esq.,  who  entertained 
the  highest  regard  for  his  father's  memory ;  and,  from 
the  character  of  the  collection,  the  author  inclines  to  the 
opinion  that  it  must  have  been  made  with  a  view  to 
the  preparation  and  publication  of  a  Life  of  Matthew 
Boulton, — which  has  not,  however,  until  now  been 
undertaken.  Thus,  among  sundry  papers  endorsed  "  M. 
Boulton — Biographical  Memoirs,"  is  found  a  MS.  memoir 
in  the  handwriting  of  James  Watt,  entitled  "  Me- 
morandum concerning  Mr.  Boulton,  commencing  with 
my  first  acquaintance  with  him,"  and  another  of  a 

PREFACE.  vii 

similar  character,  by  Mr.  James  Keir, — both  written 
shortly  after  Mr.  Boulton's  death.  Another  collection,  en- 
dorsed "  Familiarum  Epistolse  et  Selects,  1755  to  1808," 
contains  letters  received  from  various  distinguished 
personages  iii  the  course  of  Mr.  Boulton's  long  and 
interesting  career.  The  number  of  original  docu- 
ments is  indeed  so  large,  that,  but  for  a  rigid  exclu- 
sion of  non-essential  matter,  these  Lives  must  have 
expanded  into  several  volumes,  instead  of  being  com- 
pressed into  one.  But  the  author  believes  labour  to  be 
well  bestowed  in  practising  the  art  of  condensation,  and 
that  the  interest  of  biography  gains  much  by  judi- 
cious rejection.  What  Watt  said  to  Murdock  as  to  the 
production  of  a  machine,  holds  equally  true  as  to 
the  production  of  a  book, — "  It  is  a  great  thing,"  said 
Watt,  "  to  know  what  to  do  without." 

Besides  the  memoirs  of  Boulton  and  Watt,  which 
occupy  the  principal  places  in  the  following  volume, 
it  will  also  be  found  to  contain  memoirs  of  the  other 
inventors  who  have  at  various  times  laboured  at  the 
invention  and  application  of  the  steam-engine,  —  of 
the  Marquis  of  Worcester,  Dionysius  Papin,  Thomas 
Savery,  and  Thomas  Newcomen.  The  author  has  also 
been  enabled  to  gather  from  the  Boulton  papers  a 
memoir  of  William  Murdock,  which  probably  contains 
all  that  is  likely  to  be  collected  respecting  that  excel- 
lent and  most  ingenious  mechanic. 

In  addition  to  the  essential  assistance  received  from 
M.  P.  W.  Boulton,  Esq.,  in  preparing  the  present  book, 
without  which  it  would  not  have  been  undertaken, 
the  author  desires  to  record  his  acknowledgments 
to  J.  W.  Gibson  Watt,  Esq.,  for  information  relative  to 

viii  PREFACE. 

James  Watt ; — to  Charles  Savery,  Esq.,  Clifton,  J.  T. 
Saveiy,  Esq.,  Modbury,  Lieutenant-Colonel  Yolland, 
R.E.,  and  Quartermaster  Connolly,  R.E.,  for  various 
facts  as  to  the  family  history  and  professional  career 
of  Thomas  Savery,  inventor  of  the  "  Fire  Engine ; " — 
and  to  Thomas  Pemberton,  Esq.,  Heathfield ;  W.  C. 
Aitkin,  Esq.,  Coventry ;  George  Williamson,  Esq., 
Greenock ;  the  late  J.  Murdock,  Esq.,  Handsworth ; 
and  the  late  Mr.  William  Buckle,  of  the  Eoyal  Mint, 
formerly  of  Soho, — for  various  information  as  to  the 
lives  and  labours  of  Boulton  and  Watt. 

In  his  treatment  of  the  subject,  it  will  be  observed 
that  the  author  has  endeavoured,  as  much  as  possible, 
to  avoid  introducing  technical  details  relating  to  the 
steam-engine.  Those  who  desire  further  information 
on  such  points,  are  referred  to  the  works  of  Farey, 
Tredgold,  Bourne,  Scott  Eussell,  Muirhead  ('  Mecha- 
nical Inventions  of  James  Watt5),  and  other  technical 
treatises  on  the  subject,  where  they  will  find  detailed 
particulars  of  the  various  inventions  which  are  only 
incidentally  referred  to  in  the  following  pages. 

London,  October,  1805. 



Anecdote  of  Matthew  Boulton  and  George  III.  —  Boger  Bacon  on  steam 
power  —  Early  inventors,  their  steam  machines  and  apparatus  —  Hero  of 
Alexandria,  Branca,  De  Cans  —  The  Marquis  of  Worcester  —  His  water- 
works _  His  imprisonment  —  His  difficulties  —  The  water-commanding 
engine  —  His  "  Century  of  Inventions  "  —  Obscurity  of  descriptions 
of  his  steam-engine  —  Persevering  struggles  —  His  later  years  and  death 

Page  1-26 


Zeal  of  the  Marchioness  of  "Worcester  —  Sir  Samuel  Morland  —  His  pumps 
and  fire-engines  —  His  privations  and  death  —  Dr.  Dionysius  Papin  — 
His  digester  —  Experiments  on  the  power  of  steam  —  His  steam-engine  — 
Proposed  steamboat  —  Early  schemes  of  paddle-boats  —  Blasco  Garay  — 
Papin's  model  engine  and  boat  —  Destroyed  by  boatmen  —  Papin's  death 



Thomas  Savery  —  The  Savery  family  —  Savery's  mechanical  experiments 
and  contrivances  —  His  paddle-boat  —  Treatise  on  '  Navigation  Improved ' 
—  Cornish  mines  and  the  early  pumping  machinery  —  Savery's  "  Fire- 
engine  "  —  Exhibition  of  his  model  —  Explanations  in  the  *  Miner's 
Friend '  —  The  engine  tried  in  Cornwall  —  Its  failure  at  Broadwaters, 
Staffordshire  —  Savery's  later  years  —  His  death  and  testament  39-58 


Slow  progress  in  invention  of  the  steam-engine  —  Thomas  Newcomen  of 
Dartmouth  —  His  study  of  steam-power  —  Correspondence  with  Dr. 
Hooke  of  the  Eoyal  Society  —  Newcomen's  experiments  —  Assisted  by 
John  Galley  —  Newcomen's  atmospheric  engine  —  Newcomen  and  Galley 
erect  their  first  engine  —  Humphrey  Potter  the  turn-cock  boy's  contri- 
vance —  Engines  erected  at  Newcastle-on-Tyne,  Leeds,  and  Cornwall  — 
Wheal  Fortune  engine  —  Mr.  William  Lemon  —  Joseph  Hornblower  — 
Jonathan  Hulls  and  steam  propulsion  of  ships  —  His  steamboat  —  Ex- 
tended use  of  the  Newcomen  engines  in  Cornwall  and  northern  mining 
counties  —  Payne,  Brindley,  and  Smeaton,  improvers  of  the  steam-engine 




James  Watt,  his  birthplace  and  lineage  —  His  grandfather  the  mathematician 

—  Cartsdyke  and  Greenock  in  the  last  century  —  James  Watt's  father  — 
His  multifarious  occupations  —  His  mother  —  Watt's  early  years  —  His 
fragile  constitution  —  Sent  to  school  —  His  first  visit  to  Glasgow  —  His 
indulgence  in  story-telling  —  His  boyish  ingenuity  —  His  home  education 

—  the  Stuart   rebellion  —  Watt's   love   of  scientific  pursuits  —  Sent  to 
Glasgow  to  learn  the  trade  of  mathematical-instrument  maker  Page  77-95 


Glasgow  in  1754  —  The  Glasgow  tobacco  lords  —  The  early  clubs,  and  social 
habits  of  the  merchants  —  Watt's  master  —  Leaves  Glasgow,  and  pro- 
ceeds to  London  on  horseback  —  Is  placed  with  a  mathematical-instru- 
ment maker  —  His  progress  in  learning  the  trade  —  Frugal  living  in 
London  —  Danger  from  press-gangs  —  His  infirm  health  —  Returns  to 
Scotland  —  Refused  permission  to  begin  business  in  Glasgow  —  Gains 
asylum  in  the  College  —  His  workshop  there  —  Makes  musical  instru- 
ments —  His  various  reading  and  studies  —  Intercourse  with  the  pro- 
fessors —  Intimate  relations  of  Watt  with  Robison  —  Robison's  estimate 
of  Watt 96-110 


Robison  and  Watt's  conferences  on  the  power  of  steam  —  Dr.  Black  and  latent 
heat  —  Watt's  experiments  on  steam  —  His  apparatus  —  The  college 
model  of  the  Newcomen  engine  arrives  from  London  —  Watt's  experi- 
ments upon  it  —  His  difficulties  and  perseverance  —  His  instrument- 
making  business  improves  —  Takes  a  partner  and  opens  a  shop  in  the 
Salt  Market  —  His  marriage  —  Continued  experiments  on  steam  —  His 
Sunday  walk  on  Glasgow  Green,  and  his  first  idea  of  the  condensing 
engine  —  His  experiments  with  the  model,  and  successive  difficulties  — 
Anecdote  of  Watt  and  Robison  and  the  new  apparatus  —  The  model  engine 

—  Removes  to  a  cellar  and  erects  a  working  engine  —  Mechanical   and 
financial  difficulties        118-137 


Watt's  introduction  to  Dr.  Roebuck  —  Begins  business  as  surveyor  —  Surveys 
canals  —  Partnership  with  Roebuck  in  the  engine  —  Difficulties  in  con- 
structing the  engine  —  Watt's  visit  to  Kinneil  —  A  patent  determined  on 

—  Watt's  despondency  —  Continues  his  improvements  —  Learns  German 

—  Correspondence   with   Dr.    Small  —  Specification   of  patent    lodged  — 
Watt  erects  a  trial  engine  —  The  washhouse  behind  Kinneil  —  The  engine 
completed  —  Its    defects  —  Roebuck's    embarrassments  —  Watt    accepts 
engagement  to  superintend  canal  works  —  Employed  in  various  surveys  — 
Designs   Hamilton   Bridge  —  Supplies   plans   for  dock  and   pier  at  Port 
Glasgow  and  harbour  at  Ayr  —  Illness  and  death  of  Mrs.  Watt  —  Dr. 
Roebuck's  ruin  —  Turning  point  in  Watt's  fortunes          ..      ..     138-158 



Birmingham  in  early  times  —  Its  industry  —  Eoads  —  William  Hutton  — 
The  Boulton  family  —  Matthew  Boulton  begins  business  —  His  trade 
correspondence  —  His  marriage  —  His  love  of  business  —  Snow-hill  and 
Soho  —  Partnership  with  Fothergill  —  Aims  at  excellence  in  his  produc- 
tions —  Emulates  Wedgwood  —  Surpasses  French  art-manufacturers  — 
His  royal  and  noble  patrons  —  Employs  the  best  artists  —  Visits  of 
foreigners  at  Soho  —  Extension  of  business  —  Promotes  canals  —  His  vast 
business  —  Commercial  panic  —  Boulton's  scientific  pursuits  Page  161-181 


Water-  and  horse-power  at  Soho  —  Boulton's  correspondence  with  Benjamin 
Franklin  concerning  fire-engine  —  Boulton's  model  —  Correspondence  with 
Dr.  Darwin  and  Dr.  Roebuck  —  Watt  visits  Soho  —  First  meeting  of 
Boulton  and  Watt  —  Correspondence  of  Boulton  and  Watt,  and  of  Dr. 
Small  and  Watt  —  Dr.  Pioebuck  visits  Boulton  —  Watt's  anxiety  for 
Boulton  to  join  him  —  Watt's  discouragements  —  His  continued  experi- 
ments and  their  failure  —  Watt  engineer  for  the  Monkland  Canal  —  Com- 
mercial panic  —  Watt  loses  employment  as  canal  engineer  —  Roebuck's 
failure  —  Terms  of  proposed  partnership  between  Watt,  Small,  and 
Boulton  —  Roebuck's  share  in  Watt's  engine  transferred  to  Boulton  — 
Watt's  arrival  at  Birmingham  182-198 


Characteristics  of  Matthew  Boulton  —  Contrast  between  him  and  Watt  — 
Boulton's  friends  —  Watt's  engine  at  Soho  —  Boulton's  views  of  engine 
business  —  The  Kinneil  engine  re-erected  at  Soho  —  Works  successfully  — 
Inquiries  for  pumping-engines  from  the  mining  districts  —  Proposed  exten- 
sion of  patent  by  an  Act  —  Watt  in  London  —  Death  of  Dr.  Small  — 
Watt  invited  to  Russia  —  Application  to  Parliament  for  extension  of 
engine  patent  —  Application  opposed  —  Watt's  arguments  —  Act  obtained 
—  Watt  returns  to  Birmingham  —  The  manufacture  of  engines  begun  — 
The  Wilkinsons  —  First  iron  vessel  199-213 


Watt's  house,  Harper's  Hill  —  First  order  for  engines  —  Boulton's  activity 
-  The  London  engineers  prophesy  the  failure  of  Watt's  engine  —  Watt 
revisits  Glasgow  — His  second  marriage  —  Terms  of  partnership  between 
Boulton  and  Watt  —  Orders  from  Scotland  for  engines  —  Boulton  pressed 
with  work  and  anxiety  —  Watt  returns  to  Soho  with  his  wife  —  Order 
for  engine  for  Ting-tang  and  Chacewater  mines,  Cornwall  —  Watt  and 
the  Shadwell  Waterworks  Committee  —  Stratford-le-Bow  engine  —  Diffi- 
culties with  workmen  at  Soho,  and  with  unskilled  enginemen  —  Expansive 
working  .  214-229 



Inefficiency  of  the  Newcomen  pumping-engines  —  More  orders  from  Cornwall 
—  Watt  in  Cornwall  —  United  Mines  district  —  Mines  drowned  —  Watt 
and  Jonathan  Hornblower  —  Mrs.  Watt's  account  of  Cornwall  —  Chace- 
water  engine  finished  —  Its  successful  working  —  Watt's  embarrassments 
and  financial  difficulties  —  Boulton's  courage  and  perseverance,  and  Fother- 
gili's  despondency  —  Fire  at  Soho  —  Engine  royalty  on  savings  of  fuel  — 
Altercations  with  adventurers  —  Watt's  frequent  calls  for  Boulton's  help — 
Boulton's  harassments  —  Proceeds  to  Cornwall  —  Watt's  return  to  Bir- 
mingham —  His  despondency  —  Boulton  sustains  the  firm  —  Orders  for 
engines  from  abroad  —  William  Murdock,  his  excellencies  of  character  and 
ability  —  First  interview  with  Boulton  and  engagement  —  Sent  to  Corn- 
wall —  His  mode  of  dealing  with  the  captains  —  Watt's  altercations  with 
the  Cornishmen  —  His  reliance  on  Boulton  —  Altercation  with  Trevithick 

Page  230-260 


Lieutenant  Henderson  in  Cornwall  —  Boulton's  financial  embarrassments 
increase  —  Boulton  and  Fothergill  —  The  "  Soho  pictures  "  —  Watt's 
letter-copying  machine  —  Boulton  pushes  the  machine  —  Demand  for 
copying-presses  —  More  financial  difficulties  —  Watt's  sufferings  and  me- 
lancholy —  More  Cornish  engines  wanted  —  Engine-dues  —  Boulton  cheers 
Watt  —  Mining  adventurers'  meetings  —  Boulton  and  Watt  take  shares  — 
The  mines  —  Boulton  organises  the  mining  business  —  Boulton's  house  at 
Cosgarne,  Cornwall  —  Mrs.  Watt  describes  her  husband's  miseries  and 
weakness  —  The  engine  patent  threatened  by  the  Cornish  men  —  Watt  on 
patent  right  —  The  Birmingham  Copper  Company  —  Boulton  improves 
.  engine-boilers  by  introducing  tubes  —  His  MSS.  and  drawings  concerning 
mechanical  and  scientific  experiments  —  His  indefatigable  industry 



Watt  again  visits  Cornwall  —  Rotary  motion  —  The  crank-engine  at  Soho  — 
Theft  of  the  invention  —  Matthew  Washborough  —  Smeaton  and  steam- 
power  —  Rotary-motion  engine  —  Boulton  and  Watt's  cares  —  Evasions 
of  the  engine  patent  —  The  Hornblowers'  engine  —  Watt's  new  inventions 

—  Boulton's  confidence   in   the  engine  —  Air-engine  —  Watt's  fears  for 
the  patent  —  The  rotary  engine    invented  —  New  improvements   intro- 
duced —  The  equalising  beam  —  Watt's  ill  health  and  humour  —  Various 
expedients    for    producing  circular  motion  —  Murdock's    sun-and-planet 
motion  —  Patent  taken  for  the  reciprocating  expansive  engine  —  Troubles 
with  workmen  — Murdock's  efficiency  and  popularity  — Watt's  despondency 

—  The  firm's  London  agent's  house   burnt  —  Gloomy  prospects  of  the 
mining  trade 285-316 



Financial  position  of  the  firm  —  Rotary  engines  for  mills  —  Bonlton's  battles 
with  the  Cornish  adventurers  —  His  life  in  Cornwall  —  Murdock  and  the 
miners  —  The  Hornblowers'  engine  at  Radstoke —  Watt  at  Bristol  — 
Major  Tucker  —  Steam  mills  —  Rotary  motion  applied  —  The  first  rotative 
engines  —  Pumping-engines  for  the  Fens  —  Boulton's  health  fails  —  He 
visits  Scotland,  Carron  ironworks,  Lord  Dundonalcl  —  His  extensive  corre- 
spondence—  Grumbling  in  Cornwall  —  Concessions  to  the  miners  — 
Press  of  work  at  Soho  —  Watt's  invention  of  the  parallel  motion  and  the 
governor  —  Murdock's  model  locomotive  —  Boulton's  praise  of  Murdock  — 
More  pumping-engines  wanted  —  Boulton's  affection  for  his  children  — 
Letter  to  his  son  —  His  scientific  recreations  —  Domestic  enjoyment  at 
Cosgarne Page  317-341 


Boulton's  action  in  commercial  politics  —  His  interview  with  Pitt  —  Agitation 
against  Pitt's  commercial  policy  —  The  "  Irish  resolutions  "  —  Watt  on 
free  commerce  —  Is  opposed  to  political  agitation  —  Combination  against 
patents  —  Fluctuations  in  the  business  at  Soho  —  Engine  orders  from 
various  quarters  —  The  Cornish  copper-miners  —  The  Copper  Company 
formed,  and  Boulton's  part  in  it  —  Riots  in  Cornwall  —  Boulton's  life 
threatened  —  The  esteem  in  which  he  was  held  in  Cornwall  —  His  intimacy 
with  the  Quakers  —  The  Albion  Mill  scheme  —  The  double-acting  engines 
for  the  mill  —  Ill-success  of  the  undertaking  —  Albion  Mill  burnt  down  — 
Demand  for  rotative  engines  —  Want  of  skill  and  misconduct  of  workmen 
—  Wedgwood's  advice  to  Watt  —  Speculativeness  of  Boulton  —  His 
embarrassments  —  Watt's  caution  in  investing  —  Boulton's  health  fails  — 
His  depressed  spirits  —  Generosity  to  Watt  342-366 


Friends  of  Boulton  and  Watt  —  The  Lunar  Society  —  Provincial  scientific 
societies  —  Distinguished  associates  of  the  Lunar  Society  —  Dr.  Darwin  — 
Dr.  Priestley,  his  gifts  and  accomplishments  —  Josiah  Wedgwood  — 
Meetings  and  discussions  of  the  Lunar  Society  —  Dr.  Priestley's  specula- 
tions and  experiments  —  Composition  of  water,  Watt  and  Cavendish  — 
Bleaching  by  chlorine  —  Sun-pictures  —  Saint-Fond  at  Birmingham,  his 
descriptions  of  Watt  and  Priestley  —  Decline  of  the  Lunar  Society  367-385 


Increasing  debasement  of  the  coinage  —  Punishments  for  counterfeiting  — 
Birmingham  coiners  —  Boulton  refuses  orders  for  base  money  —  Executes 
a  contract  for  coin  for  the  East  India  Company  —  Applies  the  steam-engine 
to  coining  —  Improves  the  coining  apparatus  —  Political  action  in  relation 


to  base  coin  —  Strikes  model  coins  for  inspection  of  the  Privy  Council  — 
Opposed  by  the  Mint  authorities  —  Presents  model  coins  to  the  king  — 
Executes  coinage  orders  for  foreign  governments  —  His  success  —  Medalling 

—  Description  of  the  Soho  mint  —  Large  consumption  of  copper  in  coining 

—  Threatened  attack  on  Soho   by  a  mob  —  Boulton   executes  the   new 
copper  coinage  for  Great  Britain  —  Erects  the  new  Government  Mint  on 
Tower  Hill,  and  mints  for  foreign  countries  —  Watt's  estimate  of  Boulton's 
improvements  in  coining      Page  386-399 


Prosperity  of  Soho  —  Kelaxed  strain  upon  Boulton  and  Watt  —  Watt's 
pleasure  tours  —  His  interview  with  the  king  at  Windsor  —  Matthew 
Robinson  Boulton,  and  James  Watt,  jun.,  join  their  fathers  in  the  business 

—  their  character  and  attainments  —  Boulton  and  young  Watt  —  Young 
Boulton's  return  from  Paris  —  The  French  revolution  —  The  Birmingham 
riots  —  Priestley's  house  destroyed  —  Unpopularity  of  the  "  Philosophers  " 

—  Young  Watt  and  the  Jacobins  —  Watt's  flight  from  Paris  —  Denounced 
by  Burke  —  Mr.  Watt's  fear  for  his  son's  safety  —  The  sons  join  their 
fathers   in  partnership  —  Important   services  of    the    young   partners  — 
Evasion  of  engine-dues,  resistance  of  the  Cornish  mining   companies  — 
Legal  proceedings   and   favourable  judgments  —  Progress  of  the  engine 
business  —  William     Murdock  —  His     valuable    services  —  His    engine 


improvements  —  Return  to  Soho  —  Invents  gas-lighting  —  Winsor's 
wonderful  schemes  —  Murdock's  various  inventions  —  Substitute  for 
isinglass,  his  idea  of  power  wasted  in  streets,  atmospheric  railway,  &c.  — 
His  death  400-433 


First  attempts  to  construct  steamboats  —  All  attempts  fail  until  Watt's  con- 
densing engine  invented — The  locomotive  of  Watt  and  Murdock — William 
Symington  —  His  model  locomotive  —  Symington  at  Edinburgh  —  Steam- 
engine  for  canal-boats  proposed  by  Symington  —  Miller's  paddle-boats  — 
Symington,  Miller,  and  Taylor  co-operate  to  produce  a  steamboat  —  Sir 
John  Dalrymple's  inquiries  of  Boulton  on  the  same  subject  —  Boulton's 
reply  —  Symington's  engine  finished  and  fitted  in  Miller's  boat  —  Successful 
experiment  —  Symington  makes  another  engine,  further  experiments  — 
Miller  applies  to  Boulton  arid  Watt  to  join  speculation  —  Watt's  reply  — 
Symington's  engine  for  the  *  Charlotte  Dundas '  —  Symington's  success 
frustrated  —  Fulton  and  Bell  inspect  the  '  Charlotte  Dundas '  —  Fulton's 
steamboat  on  the  Seine  —  His  'Nautilus' — His  application  to  James 
Watt,  jun.  —  Boulton's  caution,  his  letter  to  Lord  Hawkesbury  —  Fulton 
orders  an  engine  from  Soho  for  the  'Clermont'  —  Its  success  —  Henry 
Bell's  steamboat  'Comet' — Development  of  steam-navigation  —  First 
rendered  practicable  through  Watt's  inventions  434-455 



Watt  withdraws  from  Soho  —  Bcmlton  continues  his  interest  in  business  — 
His  patent  for  raising  water  —  The  burglary  at  Soho  —  Sir  Walter  Scott 
and  Boulton  —  Watt  in  retirement  —  Search  for  investments —  Purchases 
land  —  Makes  a  foreign  tour  —  Death  of  Mrs.  Keir  —  Painful  bereave- 
ments—  Death  of  Dr.  Black  —  Deaths  of  members  of  the  Lunar  Society 
—  Watt's  family  bereavements  —  Watt's  studies  on  the  inhalation  of  gas 

—  Gregory  Watt,  his  brilliant  talents  —  His  friendship  with  Humphry 
Davy  —  His  excursions  and  tours  —  His  scientific  pursuits — His  illness 
and  death  —  Davy  on  Gregory's  death  —  Death  of  Professor  Eobison  — 
Watt's  estimate  of  EobisOn — Boulton's  last  days,  his  death  and  funeral 
— His  character  —  Opinions  of  his  contemporaries,    Boswell   and    others, 
concerning  him  —  Attachment  of  the  workmen  —  His  Mutual  Assurance 
Society  for  the  workmen  —  His   powers  of  organisation  —  His   business 
qualities  —  His  strength,  courage,  and  perseverance  in  fighting  the  battle 
of  the  steam-engine  —  Watt's  estimate  of  Boulton  —  Boulton's  generosity 

Page  456-487 


Watt's  closing  years  —  His  pursuits  —  His  machine  for  copying  statuary  — 
Medallions  of  his  friends  —  His  garret  workshop  —  Mrs.  Watt's  rule  over 
her  husband  —  Tenacious  retention  of  his  faculties  —  Is  consulted  by  the 
Glasgow  Waterworks  Company  —  His  visits  to  Cheltenham  and  other 
places  —  Growth  and  improvement  of  Glasgow  —  Watt's  interview  with 
the  brothers  Hart  —  His  conversational  powers —  Sir  Walter  Scott's  pane- 
gyric on  Watt — His  extensive  and  varied  knowledge — His  anecdotal  powers 

—  Fondness  for  novels  —  Description  of  him  by  visitors  at  Heathfield  — 
His  last  improvements  in  the  sculpture-copying  machine  —  His  last  illness 
and  peaceful  death  —  Monumental  honours  —  Lord  Brougham's  inscription 

—  His  qualities   and   genius  —  His   modesty  —  His   close   observation  — 
Facts  and  theory  —  Watt  and  Smeaton  compared  —  Universal  application 
of  the  steam-engine  —  Conclusion        488-514 

INDEX  515 





Edward,  second  Marquis  of  Wor- 
cester       2 

Ancient  Greek  ^Eolipile 3 

Branca's  Machine 7 

De  Caus's  Steam  Apparatus  ..      ..  9 

Kuins  of  Raglan  Castle 26 

Dionysius  Papin       31 

Ancient  Paddle-Boat       36 

Thomas  Savery        41 

Section  of  Savery's  Paddle-Boat    . .  43 

Savery's  Fire-Engine      52 

HuelVor 55 

Newcomen's  House,  Dartmouth     . .  60 

Newcomen's  Atmospheric  Engine . .  67 

Ruins  of  Wheal  Fortune 


Polgooth 71 

Jonathan  Hull's  Steam-Boat . .      . .  73 

Dartmouth  from  the  Harbour        . .  76 

Greenock  and  the  Clyde,  1865      . .  78 

Greenock  Harbour,  1768         ..      ..  79 

Crawfordsburn  House,  Greenock  ..  80 

James  Watt  Tavern,  Greenock      . .  87 

Trongate,  Glasgow 97 

Inner  Quadrangle,  Glasgow  College  107 
Isometric  View  of  Glasgow  College, 

1693       108 

The  Broomielaw  in  1760        ..      ..  116 

Professor  Robison     117 

Papin's  Digester      120 

The  Newcomen  Model 121 

Watt's  House,  Delftfield  Lane       ..  126 

Watt's  first  Improved  Apparatus  . .  130 

Dr.  Joseph  Black 132 

Kinneil  House          142 

Outhouse  behind  Kinneil       . .      . .  148 

Hamilton  Bridge      156 

Port  Glasgow 158 

Birmingham 160 

Soho  Manufactory 169 

Soho  House                                       .  177 

to  face  Title-page 

to  face  page  15!) 


Watt's  House,  Harper's  Hill  ..  ..214 
Map  of  United  Mines  District  . .  231 
Watt's  Pumping-Engine  for  Mines  23(5 

Redruth,  High  Street     238 

Cardozos  Pumping-Engine  . .  . .  260 
United  Mines  District  and  St.  Day  261 

Cosgarne  House       275 

Entrance  to  ditto     284 

The  "  Waggon  and  Horses,''  Hands- 
worth     285 

The  Crank  as  applied  in  the  Foot- 
Lathe     287 

Interior     of    the     "  Waggon     and 

Horses  "        288 

Old  Engine-House,  Dalcoath . .      . .   306 

Sun-and-Planet  Motion 309 

"  Old  Bess  "  Engine       326 

The  parallel  Motion        334 

The  Governor 335 

Polgooth  Engine-House  ....      . .   339 

Double  Acting  Engine,  Albion  Mill  355 

Dr.  Priestley 370 

Site  of  Soho  Mint 399 

Burning  of  Dr.  Priestley's  House . .    411 

William  Murdock 422 

Murdock's  House,  Handsworth      . .   433 
The  "  Comet "  passing  Dumbarton     453 
Watt's  House,  Heathfield       . .       . .   456 
Boulton's     Monument    in    Hands- 
worth  Church       478 

The  Garret  at  Heathfield       . .      . .   494 

Miller's  Triple  Vessel     437 

Symington's     first    Steamboat-En- 
gine        441 

Miller's  Experimental  Steamboat . .  442 
Machinery  of  the  '  Charlotte  Dun- 

das'        447 

Water-Pipe  in  the  Bed  of  the  Clyde  497 
Watt's  Chapel  and  Monument, 

Handsworth  Church 508 

Handsworth  Church        514 



[By   T.   D.   Scott    after  Vandyck.] 






WHEN  Matthew  Boultoii  entered  into  partnership  with 
James  Watt,  he  gave  up  the  ormolu  business  in  which 
he  had  before  been  principally  engaged.  He  had  been 
accustomed  to  supply  George  III.  with  articles  of  this 
manufacture,  but  ceased  to  wait  upon  the  King  for 
orders  after  embarking  in  his  new  enterprise.  Some 
time  after,  he  appeared  at  the  Royal  Levee  and  was  at 
once  recognised  by  the  King.  "  Ha  !  Boulton,"  said  he, 
"  it  is  long  since  we  have  seen  you  at  Court.  Pray, 
what  business  are  you  now  engaged  in?"  "I  am 
engaged,  your  Majesty,  in  the  production  of  a  commodity 
which  is  the  desire  of  kings."  "  And  what  is  that  ?  what 

B  2 


is  that?"  asked  the  King.  " POWER,  your  Majesty," 
replied  Boulton,  who  proceeded  to  give  a  description  of 
the  great  uses  to  which  the  steam-engine  was  capable 
of  being  applied. 

If  the  theory  of  James  Mill l  be  true,  that  government 
is  founded  on  the  desire  which  exists  among  men  to 
secure  and  enjoy  the  products  of  labour,  by  whatsoever 
means  produced,  probably  the  answer  of  Boulton  to 
George  III.  was  not  far  from  correct.  In  the  infancy  of 
nations  this  desire  manifested  itself  in  the  enforcement 
of  labour  by  one  class  upon  another,  in  the  various  forms 
of  slavery  and  serfdom.  To  evade  the  more  onerous 
and  exhausting  kinds  of  bodily  toil,  men  were  impelled 
to  exercise  their  ingenuity  in  improving  old  tools  and 
inventing  new  ones, — while,  to  increase  production,  they 
called  the  powers  of  nature  to  their  aid.  They  tamed 
the  horse,  and  made  him  their  servant ;  they  caught  the 
winds  as  they  blew,  and  the  waters  as  they  fell,  and 
applied  their  powers  to  the  driving  of  mills  and  machines 
of  various  kinds. 

But  there  was  a  power  greater  by  far  than  that  of 
horses,  wind,  or  water, — a  power  of  which  poets  and 
philosophers  had  long  dreamt, — capable  of  being  applied 
alike  to  the  turning  of  mills,  the  raising  of  water,  the 
rowing  of  ships,  the  driving  of  wheel-carriages,  and 
the  performance  of  labour  in  its  severest  forms.  As 
early  as  the  thirteenth  century,  Roger  Bacon  described 
this  great  new  power  in  terms  which,  interpreted  by 
the  light  of  the  present  day,  could  only  apply  to  the 
power  of  Steam.  He  anticipated  that  "  chariots  may 
be  made  so  as  to  be  moved  with  incalculable  force,  with- 
out any  beast  drawing  them,"  and  that  "  engines  of  navi- 
gation might  be  made  without  oarsmen,  so  that  the 
greatest  river  and  sea  ships,  with  only  one  man  to  steer 
them,  may  sail  swifter  than  if  they  were  fully  manned." 

1  Article  "  Government,"  in  '  Encyclopaedia  Britannica.' 


But  Bacon  was  a  seer  rather  than  an  expounder,  a  phi- 
losophic poet  rather  than  an  inventor ;  and  it  was  left  to 
men  of  future  times  to  find  out  the  practical  methods  of 
applying  the  wonderful  power  which  he  had  imagined 
and  foretold. 

The  enormous  power  latent  in  water  exposed  to  heat 
had  long  been  known.  Its  discovery  must  have  been 
almost  contemporaneous  with  that  of  fire.  The  expansive 
force  of  steam  would  be  obvious  on  setting  the  first  par- 
tially-closed pipkin  upon  the  fire.  If  closed,  the  lid 
would  be  blown  off;  and  even  if  the  vessel  were  of  iron, 
it  would  soon  burst  with  appalling  force.  Was  it  possible 
to  render  so  furious  and  apparently  unmanageable  an 
agent,  docile  and  tractable  ?  Even  in  modern  times,  the 
explosive  force  of  steam  could  only  be  compared  to  that 
of  gunpowder ;  and  it  is  a  curious  fact,  that  both  De 
Hautefeuille  and  Papin  proposed  to  employ  gunpowder 
in  preference  to  steam  in  driving  a  piston  in  a  cylinder, 
considering  it  to  be  the  more  manageable  power  of  the 

Although  it  appears  from  the  writings  of  the  Greek 
physician,  Hero,  who  flourished  at  Alexandria  more  than 
a  century  before  Christ,  that  steam  was  well  known  to 
the  ancients,  it  was  employed  by  them  merely  as  a  toy, 
or  as  a  means  of  exciting  the  wonder  of  the  credulous. 
In  his  treatise  on  Pneumatics,  Hero  gives  descriptions 
of  various  methods  of  employing  steam  or  heated  air 
for  the  purpose  of  producing  apparently  magical  effects ; 
from  which  we  infer  that  the  agency  of  heat  was  em- 
ployed by  the  heathen  priests  in  the  performance  of 
their  rites.  By  one  of  the  devices  which  he  describes, 
water  was  apparently  changed  into  wine ;  by  another, 
the  .  temple  doors  were  opened  by  fire  placed  on  the 
sacrificial  altar ;  while  by  a  third,  the  sacrificial  vessel 
was  so  contrived  as  to  flow  only  when*  the  money  of  the 
votary  was  cast  into  it.  Another  ingenious  device  con- 
sisted in  the  method  employed  to  pour  out  libations. 


(/HAP.    1. 

Upon  -the  altar-fire  being  kindled,  the  air  in  the  interior 
became  expanded  and,  pressing  upon  the  surface  of  the 
liquid  which  it  contained,  forced  it  up  a  connecting- 
pipe,  and  so  out  of  the  sacrificial  cup.  The  libation 
was  made,  and  the  people  cried,  "  A  miracle  ! "  But 
Hero  knew  the  trick,  and  explained  the  arrangement 
by  which  it  was  accomplished :  it  forms  the  subject  of 
his  eleventh  theorem. 

The  most  interesting  of  the  other  devices  described 
by  Hero  is  the  whirling  ^Eolipile,  or  ball  of  ^Eolus, 
which,  though  but  a  toy,  possessed  the  properties  of  a 
true  steam-engine,  and  was  most  probably  the  first  ever 
invented.  As  Hero's  book  professes  to  be,  for  the  most 
part,  but  a  collection  of  the  devices  handed  down  by 
former  writers,  and  as  he  does  not  lay  claim  to  its  in- 
vention, it  is  probable  the  ^Eolipile  may  Rave  been 
known  long  before  his  time.  The  machine  consisted  of 
a  hollow  globe  of  metal,  moving  on  its  axis,  and  com- 
municating with  a  caldron  of  water  placed  underneath. 
The  globe  was  provided  with  one  or  more  tubes  pro- 
jecting from  it,  closed  at  the  ends,  but  open  on  one 
side.  When  a  fire  was  lit  under  the  caldron,  and  the 
steam  was  raised,  it  filled  the  globe,  and,  projecting 
itself  against  the  air  through  the  openings  in  the  tubes, 
the  reactive  force  thus  produced  caused  the  globe  to  spin 
round  upon  its  axis  "  as  if  it  were  animated  from  within 
by  a  living  spirit." 1 

The  mechanical  means  by  which  these  various  objects 
were  accomplished,  as  explained  by  Hero,  show  that  the 
ancients  were  acquainted  with  the  ordinary  expedients 
for  communicating  motion,  such  as  the  wheel  and  axle, 
spur-wheels,  toothed  pinions  and  sectors,  the  lever-beam, 

1  The  principle  of  the  ^Eolipile  is 
the  same  as  that  embodied  in  Avery 
and  Ruthven's  engines  for  the  produc- 
tion of  rotary  motion.  "  These  en- 
gines," says  Bourne,  "  are  more  expen- 

sive in  steam  than  ordinary  engines, 
and  travel  at  an  inconvenient  speed ; 
but  in  other  respects  they  are  quite 
as  effectual,  and  their  construction  is 
extremely  simple  and  inexpensive." 

CHAP.  I. 


and  other  well-known  expedients  ;  while  they  also  knew 
of  the  cylinder  and  piston,  the  three-way  cock,  slide- 
valves  and  valve-clacks,1  and  many  other  ingenious 
mechanical  details  which  have  been  reinvented  in  mo- 
dern times. 

Hero's  book  lay  hidden  in  manuscript  and  buried  in 
libraries,  until  the  revival  of  learning  in  Italy  in  the 
sixteenth  century,  when  a  translation  of  it  appeared  at 
Bologna  in  1547.  By  that  time  printing  had  been  in- 
vented ;  and  the  multiplication  of  copies  being  thereby 
rendered  easy,  the  book  was  soon  brought  under  the  notice 
of  inquiring  men  throughout  Europe.  The  work  must, 
indeed,  have  excited 
an  extraordinary  de- 
gree of  interest ;  in 
proof  of  vttiich  it  may 
be  inenti  oned  that  eight 
different  editions,  in 
different  languages, 
were  published  within 
a  century.  The  minds 
of  the  curious  and  the 
scientific  were  thus  di- 
rected to  the  subject  of 
steam  as  a  motive 
power.  But  for  a  long 
time  they  never  got  beyond  the  idea  of 
Hero's  ^Eolipile,  though  they  endeavoured 
to  apply  the  rotary  motion  produced  by  it 
in  different  ways.  Thus,  a  German  writer 
suggested  that  it  should  be  used  to  turn 
spits,  instead  of  turnspit  dogs  ;  and  Branca,  j 
the  Italian  architect,  used  the  steam  jet 
projected  from  a  brazen  head  to  drive  an  apparatus 


1  See  Bennet  Woodcraft's  '  Pneumatics  of  Hero  of  Alexandria,'  from  the 
original  Greek.     London,  1851. 


contrived  by  him  for  pounding  drugs.  The  jet  forced 
round  the  vanes  of  a  wheel,  so  as  to  produce  a  rotary 
motion,  and  this,  being  communicated  to  other  wheels, 
set  in  motion  a  rod  and  stamper,  after  the  manner  shown 
in  the  preceding  cut. 

Solomon  de  Caus  was  another  of  the  speculative  in- 
quirers whose  attention  was  drawn  to  the  subject  of  steam 
by  the  publication  of  Hero's  book.  De  Caus  was  a 
native  of  Normandy,  and  for  some  time  studied  the  pro- 
fession of  an  architect  in  Italy ;  from  whence  he  returned 
to  France  early  in  the  seventeenth  century.  Religious 
persecution  was  then  raging,  and,  being  a  Protestant, 
he  was  glad  to  take  refuge  from  it  in  England.  He 
entered  the  service  of  the  Prince  of  Wales,  by  whom  he 
was  for  a  time  employed  in  designing  grottoes,  fountains, 
and  hydraulic  ornaments  for  the  Palace  Gardens  at  Rich- 
mond. While  occupied  in  that  capacity  he  gave  lessons 
in  design  to  the  Princess  Elizabeth  ;  and  on  her  marriage 
to  the  Elector  Palatine  he  accompanied  her  to  Heidel- 
berg, to  take  charge  of  the  Castle  gardens  there.  It  was 
while  residing  at  Heidelberg  that  De  Caus  wrote  his 
well-known  book  on  hydraulics,  which  was  published  at 
Frankfort  in  1615. l 

One  of  De  Caus's  expedients  for  raising  water  con- 
sisted of  an  apparatus  in  which  he  proposed  to  employ 
the  expansive  power  of  steam  for  the  purpose.  In 
Hero's  book  it  is  shown  how  a  column  of  water  may  be 
thrown  up  by  means  of  compressed  air ;  and  De  Caus 
merely  proposed  to  employ  steam  instead  of  air.  His 
apparatus  was  very  simple.  It  consisted  of  a  spheri- 
cal vessel  fitted  with  two  pipes,  one  of  them  provided 
with  a  cock  and  funnel ;  the  other,  which  reached  down 
to  near  the  bottom  of  the  vessel,  being  open  at  the  top 
to  the  external  air.  When  the  vessel  was  filled  with 

1  Lcs  Eaisons  des  Forces  Mou- 
Vflntes,  avec  diverses  machines  tant 
utiles  quo  plaisantes,  &c.,  par  Solomon 

do  Cans,  Inp;e'nieiir  ct  Architecte  du 
Roy.     Frankfort,  1615. 

CHAP.  I. 


water  and  a  fire  lit  underneath,  the  water  was  forced 

up  the  open  tube  in  a  jet,  greater  or  less  in  proportion 

to  the  elasticity  of  the  steam.   When 

both  tubes  were  tightly  closed,  so 

that  neither  steam  nor  water  could 

escape,    the   heat,    says    De    Caus, 

would  shortly  cause  a  compression 

from  within  so  violent  that  "  the 

ball  will  burst  in  pieces,  with  a  noise 

like  a  petard." 

It  will  be  observed  that  there  was 
little  mechanical  contrivance,  and 
no  practical  use  in  this  apparatus ;  it 
merely  furnished  an  illustration  of 
the  extraordinary  force  of  pent-up 
steam,  and  that  was  all.  Though  De  Caus  made  many 
experiments  with  his  steam-vessel,  he  never  succeeded 
in  making — if,  indeed,  he  ever  attempted  to  make — a 
working  steam-engine  of  any  kind.  It  is  not  impro- 
bable that  he  was  dismayed,  as  others  were,  by  the 
apparent  violence  of  the  imprisoned  monster ;  and  it 
needed  a  more  ingenious  head  than  his  to  contrive  a 
method  of  rendering  him  docile,  and  making  him  go 
quietly  in  harness.1 


1  De  Caus  eventually  returned  to 
France,  and  was  appointed  engineer  to 
the  King.  During  the  later  years  of 
his  life  he  was  employed  in  carrying 
out  plans  for  the  better  supply  of 
Paris  with  water.  The  story  so  often 
told  of  De  Cans  having  been  shut  up 
in  the  Bicetre  turns  out  to  be  a  fic- 
tion. Though  a  Huguenot,  he  was 
not  persecuted  by  Richelieu,  but  was, 
on  the  contrary,  employed  by  him ; 
and  in  1624  he  dedicated  to  that 
prelate  his  treatise  entitled  '  Horologes 
Solitaires.'  Mr.  Charles  Read,  editor 
of  several  interesting  memoirs  of  early 
French  Protestants,  has  recently 
brought  to  light  and  published  in  the 
'  Gazette  des  Tribunaux '  the  proofs 
of  the  patronage  of  De  Caus  by 

Richelieu,  and  reproduced  the  original 
documents,  which  he  discovered  slum- 
bering in  the  dust  of  the  State  Records 
at  Paris.  In  1621  De  Caus  is  found 
proposing  to  Louis  XIII.  to  adopt 
measures  for  cleansing  Paris  and  the 
faubourgs  of  dirt  and  uncleanness, 
by  a  system  of  reservoirs  established 
at  elevated  points,  and  by  fountains  at 
various  places  which  he  indicated. 
The  king  and  his  council  sent  the 
propositions  to  the  chief  magistrate  of 
Paris,  and  Mr.  Read  transcribes  the 
deliberation  which  took  place  on  the 
subject  at  the  City  Council,  as  handed 
down  in  the  records  deposited  in  the 
Imperial  Archives.  De  Caus  died  at 
Paris,  and  was  buried  in  the  church 
of  La  Trinite'  in  February,  1626. 


It  is  probable  that  the  first  contriver  of  a  working 
steam-engine  was  Edward,  second  Marquis  of  Worcester, 
one  of  the  first  and  most  illustrious  of  a  long  line  of 
unfortunate  inventors.  The  career  of  that  nobleman- 
born  though  he  was  to  high  rank  and  great  estate — was 
chequered  and  sad  in  no  ordinary  degree.  Edward 
Somerset  was  the  eldest  son  of  Henry  Lord  Herbert, 
afterwards  Earl  of  Worcester,  and  consequently  heir  to 
that  title.  He  was  born  in  London  in  1601.  His  early 
years  were  principally  spent  at  Eaglan  Castle,  his 
father's  country  seat,  where  his  education  was  carefully 
attended  to.  In  the  course  of  his  pupilage  he  made 
occasional  visits  to  the  continent,  accompanied  by  his 
tutor,  for  the  purpose  of  acquiring  that  degree  of 
polish  and  culture  considered  necessary  for  a  person 
of  his  social  position.  On  the  accession  of  his  father  to 
the  Earldom  of  Worcester,  in  1627,  Edward  became 
Lord  Herbert  by  courtesy  ;  and  in  the  following  year 
he  married,  and  went  to  reside  at  Eaglan  Castle. 

From  an  early  period  of  his  life  Lord  Herbert  took 
especial  pleasure  in  mechanical  studies,  and  in  the 
course  of  his  foreign  tours  he  visited  and  examined  the 
famous  works  of  construction  abroad ;  for  as  yet  there 
were  none  such  in  England.  On  settling  down  at 
Raglan,  he  proceeded  to  set  up  a  laboratory,  or  work- 
shop, wherein  to  indulge  his  mechanical  tastes,  and 
perhaps  to  while  away  the  tedium  of  a  country  life. 
To  assist  him  in  his  labours,  he  engaged  a  clever  foreign 
mechanic,  named  Caspar  Kaltoff,  who  remained  in  his 
service  for  many  years,  and  materially  helped  him  in 
his  various  contrivances.  Among  the  works  executed 
by  Lord  Herbert  and  his  assistant  at  Raglan,  was  the 
hydraulic  apparatus  by  means  of  which  the  castle  was 
supplied  with  water.  From  an  incidental  reference  to 
the  "water-works"  by  a  contemporary  writer,  we  learn 
that  they  consisted  of  a  series  of  engines  and  wheels,  by 
means  of  which  water  was  raised  through  pipes  to  a 

CHAP.  I. 



cistern  placed  on  the  summit  of  the  central  tower.1  It 
is  probable  that  the  planning  and  construction  of  these 
works  induced  Lord  Herbert  to  prosecute  the  study  of 
hydraulics,  and  to  enter  upon  that  series  of  experiments 
as  to  the  power  of  steam  which  eventually  led  to  the 
contrivance  of  his  "  Water-commanding  Engine." 

In  pursuits  and  studies  such  as  these,  Lord  Herbert 
spent  about  seven  years  at  Raglan  Castle.  But  his  wife 
dying  in  1635,  the  place  became  connected  in  his  mind 
with  too  painful  associations,  and  he  shortly  after  left 
it  to  reside  in  London.  On  his  arrival  there,  he  pro- 
ceeded to  put  to  the  practical  test  a  plan  of  perpetual 
motion  which  he  had  long  studied,  and  now  thought 
he  had  brought  to  perfection.  He  accordingly  had 
his  self-moving  wheel2  set  up  in  the  Tower;  but 
though  it  moved,  its  motion  did  not  prove  perpetual, 
and  it  shortly  dropped  out  of  sight,  to  be  no  more 
heard  of. 

1  Dr.  Bayly,  in  his  '  Apothegms '  ! 
(1682),  p.  87,  describes  the  fright  \ 
given  to  some  Puritan  visitors  on  the  j 
occasion  of  their  searching  Raglan  I 
Castle  for  arms,  the  Marquis  of  Wor-  > 
cester  being  a  known  Papist.  "  Hav- 
ing carried  them  up  and  down  the 
castle,  his  lordship  at  length  brought 
them  over  a  high  bridge  that  arched 
over  the  moat  between  the  castle  and 
the  great  tower,  wherein  the  Lord 
Herbert  had  lately  contrived  certain 
water-works,  which,  when  the  several 
engines  and  wheels  were  set  agoing, 
much  quantity  of  water  through  the 
hollow  conveyances  of  the  aqueducts 
was  to  be  let  down  from  the  top  of 
an  high  tower."  When  all  was  ready 
for  the  surprise,  the  water  was  let  in, 
and  it  made  such  a  hideous  and  fearful 
noise  by  reason  of  the  hollowness  of 
the  tower,  and  the  neighbouring 
echoes  of  the  castle,  that  the  men 
stood  amazed  and  terror-struck.  At 
this  point  up  came  a  man  staring  and 
running,  who  exclaimed,  "  Look  to 
yourselves,  my  masters,  for  the  lions 
are  got  loose."  Whereupon  the  Puri- 

tans fled  down  the  narrow  staircase  in 
such  haste  that  they  lost  footing  and 
fell,  tumbling  one  over  the  other,  and 
never  halted  until  they  had  got  the 
castle  out  of  sight.  Mr.  Dircks,  in 
his  able  and  exhaustive  '  Life,  Times, 
and  Scientific  Labours  of  the  Marquis 
of  Worcester,'  London,  1865,  says 
that  this  hydraulic  apparatus  "  pro- 
bably depended  for  its  operation  on 
the  influence  of  heat  from  burning 
fuel  acting  on  a  suitably  constructed 
boiler,  and  so  arranged  as  to  be  able 
to  apply  the  expansive  force  of  steam 
to  the  driving  of  water  through  ver- 
tical pipes  to  a  considerable  eleva- 
tion." But  it  does  not  seem  to  us 
that  the  facts  stated  are  sufficient  to 
warrant  this  assumption. 

2  Mr.  Dircks  says  "  it  was  a  ma- 
chine consisting  of  a  wheel  14  feet 
in  diameter,  carrying  forty  weights 
of  forty  pounds  each,  and  is  supposed 
to  have  rotated  on  an  axle  supported 
on  two  pillars  or  upright  frames,"  as 
indicated  in  the  'Century  of  Inven- 
tions,' Art.  56. 


After  the  lapse  of  four  years,  Lord  Herbert  again 
married,  taking  to  wife  the  Lady  Margaret,  second 
daughter  of  the  Earl  of  Thomond.  In  the  year  after  his 
second  marriage,  the  celebrated  Long  Parliament  began 
its  sittings.  Questions  of  great  public  import  were 
agitating  the  minds  of  thinking  men,  and  the  nation 
was  gradually  becoming  divided  into  two  hostile  parties, 
soon  to  be  arrayed  against  each  other  in  deadly  strife. 
A  Eoyalist  and  a  Roman  Catholic  like  his  father,  Lord 
Herbert  at  once  ranged  himself  on  the  side  of  the  King. 
On  the  outbreak  of  the  Civil  War,  we  find  both  father 
and  son  actively  employed  in  mustering  forces,  and  pre- 
paring to  hold  the  western  counties  against  the  Parlia- 
ment. Eaglan  Castle  was  strongly  garrisoned,  and  for- 
tifications were  thrown  up  around  it,  so  as  to  render  it 
secure  against  assault.  The  Earl,  now  Marquis  of  Wor- 
cester, was  appointed  Generalissimo  of  the  Western 
Forces,  while  his  son,  Lord  Herbert,  was  made  General 
of  South  Wales.  From  this  office  he  was  shortly  after 
called  by  the  King,  who,  creating  him  Earl  of  Gla- 
morgan, despatched  him  on  a  mission  to  Ireland,  with 
the  object  of  stirring  up  the  loyalists  of  that  kingdom, 
and  inducing  them  to  come  to  his  help.  This  delicate 
office  he  is  said  to  have  performed  with  more  zeal  than 
discretion.  Indeed,  the  studious  habits  of  his  early  life 
must  in  a  measure  have  unfitted  him  for  the  conduct  of 
so  important  an  affair ;  and  the  bungle  he  made  of  it 
was  such  that  the  King  felt  himself  under  the  necessity 
of  repudiating  the  acts  which  the  Earl  had  done  in  his 

It  is  unnecessary  that  we  should  follow  the  fortunes 
of  the  house  of  Raglan  in  the  course  of  the  civil  war. 
Suffice  it  to  say  that  the  King's  cause  was  utterly  lost ; 
that  Raglan  Castle  was  besieged,  taken,  and  dismantled ; 
that  the  Marquis  of  Worcester,  having  advanced  to  the 
King  at  different  times  as  much  as  122,500/.,  had  com- 
pletely impoverished  himself;  and  that  when  the  Earl 


succeeded  to  his  father's  title,  and  became  second  Mar- 
quis of  Worcester,  in  1646,  he  inherited  an  exhausted 
exchequer,  a  confiscated  estate,  and  a  ruined  home. 
The  services  he  had  rendered  to  the  King  were  remem- 
bered against  him ;  and  to  escape  the  vengeance  of  his 
political  enemies  he  took  refuge  in  France.  There  he 
lived  in  poverty  and  in  exile  for  a  period  of  about  five 
years.  At  length,  drawn  to  England  by  the  powerful 
attractions  of  wife  and  family,  and  probably  also  com- 
missioned to  perform  a  service  for  the  exiled  Charles  II., 
the  Marquis  secretly  visited  London  in  1655,  where  he 
was  shortly  after  detected,  apprehended,  and  imprisoned 
in  the  Tower.  He  sought  and  found  solace,  during 
his  confinement,  in  study  and  contemplation,  reverting 
to  his  early  experiments  in  mechanics ;  and  he  occupied 
the  long  and  weary  hours  in  committing  to  paper 
descriptions  of  his  many  ingenious  devices,  which  he 
afterwards  published  in  his  '  Century  of  Inventions/ 
The  Marquis's  old  and  skilled  mechanic,  Caspar  Kaltoff, 
continued  faithful  to  him  in  his  adversity,  and  was  per- 
mitted to  hold  free  communication  with  him ;  from 
which  we  infer  that  his  imprisonment  was  not  of  a  very 
rigid  character. 

After  lying  in  the  Tower  for  about  two  years, 
the  Marquis  was  liberated  on  bail,  in  October,  1654, 
when  he  proceeded  to  take  steps  to  erect  his  long-con- 
templated Water-commanding  Engine.  Even  while  a 
prisoner,  we  find  him  negotiating  with  the  then  owner 
of  Yauxhall  for  its  purchase,  with  a  view  to  the  esta- 
blishment there  of  a  school  of  skilled  industry ;  thus 
anticipating  by  nearly  two  centuries  the  School  of  Mines 
and  Manufactures  at  South  Kensington.  In  the  month 
preceding  his  enlargement  we  find  Hartlib  writing  to 
the  Hon.  Eobert  Boyle, — "  The  Earl  of  Worcester  is 
buying  Fauxliall  from  Mr.  Treiichard,  to  bestow  the  use 
of  that  house  upon  Caspar  Calchoff  and  his  son  as  long* 
as  they  shall  live,  for  he  intends  to  make  it  a  College  of 


Artizaris." 1  His  main  difficulty,  however,  consisted  in 
raising  the  necessary  means  for  carrying  his  excellent 
project  into  effect.  He  was,  indeed,  so  reduced  in  his 
circumstances  as  to  be  under  the  necessity  of  petitioning 
his  political  enemies  for  the  bare  means  of  living ;  and 
we  find  Cromwell,  in  the  course  of  the  year  following 
his  liberation  from  prison,  issuing  a  warrant  for  the  pay- 
ment to  him  of  three  pounds  a  week  "  for  his  better  main- 
tenance." The  Marquis  also  tried  the  experiment  of 
levying  contributions  from  his  friends ;  but  they  were, 
for  the  most  part,  as  poor  as  himself.  He  next  tried  the 
wealthy  men  of  the  Parliamentary  party,  and  succeeded 
in  obtaining  several  advances  of  money  from  Colonel 
Copley,  who  took  an  active  interest  in  the  prosecu- 
tion of  various  industrial  undertakings.2  The  following 
letter  from  the  Marquis  to  Copley  shows  the  straits  to 
which  he  was  reduced  : — 

"DEAR  FRIEND, — I  kiiowe  not  with  what  face  to  desire  a  curtesie 
from  you,  since  1  have  not  yet  payed  you  the  five  powndes,  and  the 
iriayne  businesse  soe  long  protracted,  whereby  my  reality  and 
kindiiesse  should  with  thankfullnesse  appeare ;  for  though  the  least 
I  intende  you  is  to  make  up  the  somme  already  promised  to  a 
thousand  powndes  yearly,  or  a  share  ammounting  to  four  more, 
which,  to  nominate  before  the  perfection  of  the  woorke,  were  but  an 
indimduum  vagum,  and,  therefore,  I  deferre  it,  and  upon  noe  other 
score.  Yet  in  this  interim,  my  disappointments  are  soe  great,  as 
that  I  am  forced  to  begge,  if  you  could  possible,  eyther  to  helpe  me 
with  tenne  powndes  to  this  bearer,  or  to  make  use  of  the  coache, 
and  to  goe  to  Mr.  Clerke,  and  if  he  could  this  day  help  me  to  fifty 
powndes,  then  to  paye  your  selfe  the  five  powndes  1  owe  you  out  of 
them.  The  Alderman  has  taken  three  days'  time  to  consider  of  it. 
Pardon  the  great  trouble  I  give  you,  which  I  doubt  not  but  in  time 
to  deserve,  by  really  appearing 

"  Your  most  thankfull  friend, 

"  2Sth  March,  1656. 
"  To  my  honoured  friend,  Collonel  CHRISTOPHER  COPPLEY,  these." 

The  original  of  this  letter  is  endorsed  "  My  Lord  of 

1  '  Weld's  .Royal  Society,'  i.  53.  2  '  Industrial  Biography,'  p.  57. 

("HAP.  T.  HOPES  REVIVED.  15 

Worcester's  letter  about  my  share  in  his  engine,"  from 
which  it  would  appear  that  the  Marquis  induced  his 
friends  to  advance  him  money  on  the  promise  of  a  cer- 
tain proportion  of  shares  in  the  undertaking.  He  also 
pressed  his  invention  upon  the  notice  of  Government, 
representing  that  he  was  in  a  position  to  do  his  High- 
ness the  Protector  "  more  service  than  any  one  subject 
of  his  three  nations."  But  neither  the  Protector  nor  his 
Ministers  took  any  further  notice  of  the  Marquis  or  his 
project.  It  is  probable  that  they  regarded  him  as  a 
bore,  and  his  water-commanding  engine  as  the  mere 
dream  of  a  projector. 

The  Marquis  himself  continued  to  be  as  confident  as  ever 
of  the  ultimate  success  of  his  scheme.  He  believed  that 
it  would  yet  realise  him  an  immense  fortune.  Writing 
of  the  engine  to  the  Earl  of  Lotherdale,  he  described  it 
as  "  the  greatest  invention  for  profit  that  I  ever  yet 
heard  of  vouchsafed  to  a  man,  especially  so  unworthy 
and  ignorant  as  I  am."  But  the  Marquis  was  not  so 
humble  as  he  affected  to  be,  believing  in  his  heart  that 
he  had  invented,  without  exception,  the  most  wonderful 
machine  of  the  age.  Still  it  remained  a  mere  project. 
Without  the  means  of  erecting  an  engine,  it  promised 
to  remain  such;  and  all  his  efforts  to  raise  the  necessary 
funds  had  thus  far  proved  unavailing. 

The  Restoration  of  Charles  II.,  in  1660,  revived  his 
hopes.  Now  that  the  King  enjoyed  his  own  again,  the 
Marquis  believed  that  he,  too,  would  come  into  posses- 
sion of  the  means  for  carrying  out  his  project,  For 
thirteen  years  he  had  lived  in  exile,  in  prison,  and  in 
poverty :  but  brighter  days  had  dawned  at  last ;  and 
he  indulged  in  the  hope  that  compensation  would  at 
length  be  made  to  him  for  his  sufferings  in  the  cause  of 
the  Stuarts,  and  that  he  would  now  bask  in  the  sunshine 
of  Roval  favour.  He  made  all  haste  to  represent  his  case 
to  the  king,  and  to  claim  restitution  for  his  heavy  losses 
in  the  late  war.  But  there  were  thousands  of  like  sup- 


CHAP.  I. 

pliants  all  over  the  kingdom,  and  redress  came  slowly. 
The  Marquis  was,  however,  shortly  put  in  possession  of 
such  parts  of  his  estates  as  had  not  been  sold  by  the  Pro- 
tector ;  but  he  found  them  for  the  most  part  cleared  of 
their  timber,  and  comparatively  valueless.  The  castle 
at  Raglan  was  in  ruins.  He  himself  was  heavily 
burdened  with  debt,  and  his  creditors  were  becoming 
increasingly  importunate  for  money.  It  was  thus  long 
before  he  could  shake  himself  clear  of  his  embarrass- 
ments, and  devote  himself  to  the  great  object  of  his  life, 
the  prosecution  of  his  water-commanding  engine. 

One  of  his  first  cares,  on  the  partial  recovery  of  his 
property,  was  to  obtain  a  legal  protection  for  his  in- 
ventions ;  and  in  the  year  following  the  Restoration  we 
find  him  taking  out  a  patent  for  four  of  his  schemes,— 
a  watch  or  clock,  guns  or  pistols,  an  engine  to  give 
security  to  a  coach,  and  a  boat  to  sail  against  wind  and 
tide.  In  the  session  of  Parliament,  1662-3,  he  obtained 
an  Act  securing  to  himself  the  profits  of  the  water- 
commanding  engine.  About  the  same  time  he  gave  to 
the  world  his  famous  '  Century,' 1  which  contains  his 
own  account  of  his  various  inventions.  In  the  second 
dedication  of  the  book  to  the  members  of  both  Houses 
of  Parliament  he  states  that  he  had  already  expended 
the  large  sum  of  10,000/.  on  experiments;  but  he 
professed  that  he  esteemed  himself  sufficiently  rewarded 
by  the  passing  of  "  the  Act  of  the  Water-commanding 
Engine,"  and,  his  debts  once  paid,  he  intended  to  devote 
the  rest  of  his  life  to  the  service  of  his  King  and  country. 
The  '  Century '  is  a  mere  summary  of  things  alleged  to 
have  been  tried  and  perfected,  conveyed  in  vague  and 
mysterious  language,  and  calculated  rather  to  excite 

1  'A  Century  of  the  Names  and 
Scantlings  of  such  Inventions  as  at 
present  1  can  call  to  mind  to  have 
tried  and  perfected,  which  (my  former 
Notes  being  lost)  I  have,  at  the  in- 

stance of  a  powerful  Friend,  en- 
deavoured now,  in  the  year  1055,  to 
set  these  down  in  such  a  way  as  may 
sufficiently  instruct  me  to  put  any  of 
them  in  practice.'  London,  1G63. 

CHAP.  I. 



wonder  than  to  furnish  information.  The  descriptions 
were  unaccompanied  by  plans  or  drawings,  so  that  we 
can  only  surmise  the  means  by  which  he  proposed  to 
carry  his  schemes  into  effect.  It  is  possible  that  he 
purposely  left  the  descriptions  of  his  inventions  vague, 
in  order  that  he  might  not  be  anticipated  in  their 
application ;  for  it  is  certain  that  at  the  time  the  book 
was  written  the  Marquis  had  not  taken  out  his  first 
patent,  nor  obtained  the  Act  securing  to  him  the  profits 
of  his  engine. 

There  can,  however,  be  no  doubt  that,  vague  and 
mysterious  though  the  '  Scantlings'  be,  they  indicate  a 
knowledge  of  mechanical  principles  considerably  in 
advance  of  the  age,  as  well  as  a  high  degree  of  me- 
chanical ingenuity.  The  hundred  Articles  into  which 
the  book  is  divided  contain  suggestions,  in  shorthand 
descriptions,  of  things  so  various  as  ship -destroy  ing 
machines,  telegraphs,  combination  and  escutcheon  locks,1 
improvements  in  fire-arms,  universal  alphabets,  seals  and 
watches,  various  kinds  of  cipher,  a  boat  rowing  against 
wind  and  tide,  automata,  and  mechanical  appliances  of 
different  kinds,  including  the  u  stupendious  and-  semi- 
omnipotent"  engine.  Some  of  them  read  like  descrip- 
tions of  conjuring  tricks,  such  as  the  artificial  bird, 
the  hour  water-ball,  the  flying  man,  the  brazen  head, 
the  dicing-box,  and  various  automata.  Others  are  full 

1  The  writer  of  the  elaborate  article 
"  Lock,"  in  the  supplement  to  the 
'  Penny  Cyclopedia  '  (ii.  217),  in  de- 
scribing the  combination  lock,  says : 
"  The  Marquis  of  Worcester,  in  whose 
'Century  of  Inventions'  several  dif- 
ferent kinds  of  lock,  which  lay  claim 
to  the  most  marvellous  properties,  are 
enumerated,  would  appear,  from  his 
72nd  article,  to  have  devised  an  im- 
provement on  this  apparatus ;  as  he 
refers  to  *  an  escutcheon  to  be  placed 
before  any  of  these  locks,'  one  of  the 
properties  of  which  he  describes  as 
being  that  '  the  owner,  though  a 

woman,  may,  with  her  delicate  hand, 
vary  the  ways  of  coming  to  open  the 
lock  ten  millions  of  times  beyond  the 
knowledge  of  the  smith  that  made  it, 
or  of  me  who  invented  it.'  The  details 
of  this  invention  are  not  given ;  but  in 
the  third  volume  of  the  '  Transactions 
of  the  Society  of  Arts,'  pp.  160-5,  is 
an  escutcheon  of  similar  character, 
invented  by  Mr.  Marshall,  and  re- 
warded by  the  Society  in  1784.  The 
details  of  this  ingenious  contrivance 
are  fully  given  in  the  volume  referred 




CHAP.  .1. 

of  prophetic  insight,  and  contain  anticipations  of  me- 
chanical marvels,  which,  however  wonderful  they  may 
at  that  time  have  appeared,  have  since  been  fully  realised. 
The  style  in  which  the  treatise  was  written,  however, 
presented  so  remarkable  a  contrast  to  the  contemporary 
writings  of  Newton,  Boyle,  Pascal,  Guericke,  and  others, 
that  it  is  not  improbable  it  had  the  effect  of  prejudicing 
the  minds  of  scientific  men  against  the  writer,  and  led 
them  to  regard  his  schemes  as  those  of  a  wild  projector, 
and  hence  to  treat  his  propositions  with  neglect,  if  not 
with  contumely. 

So  soon  as  the  Marquis  had  become  possessed  of  the 
requisite  funds,  he  proceeded  to  erect  an  engine  at  Yaux- 
hall  to  illustrate  the  uses  of  his  principal  invention.  He 
was  assisted,  as  before,  by  his  old  workman,  Caspar 
Kaltoff.  It  is  probable  that  the  engine  was  erected  by 
the  beginning  of  1663  ;  for  in  the  course  of  that  year 
M.  Sorbiere  paid  his  visit  to  England,  and  found  the 
Marquis's  "  hydraulic  machine "  at  work.  He  describes 
it  as  capable  of  raising,  by  the  strength  of  one  man 
only,  within  a  minute  of  time,  four  large  buckets  of 
water  to  a  height  of  forty  feet,  through  a  pipe  eight 
inches  in  diameter.  He  proceeds  to  compare  it  with 
another  machine  at  Somerset  House,  worked  by  one  or 
two  horses,  which  he  considers  the  more  effective  ma- 
chine of  the  two.1  This  account  of  the  Marquis's  in- 

1  His  words  are  these : — "  One  of 
the  most  curious  things  that  I  wished 
to  see  was  an  hydraulic  machine  which 
the  Marquis  of  Worcester  has  invented, 
and  of  which  he  is  making  trial.  I 
went  with  all  speed  to  Fox-hall,  on 
the  other  side  of  the  Thames,  a  little 
balow  Lambeth,  which  is  the  Palace  of 
the  Archbishop  of  Canterbury,  in  sight 
of  London.  This  machine  will  raise  to 
the  height  of  forty  feet,  by  the  strength 
of  one  man  only,  and  in  a  minute  of 
time,  four  large  buckets  of  water 
through  a  pipe  of  eight  inches.  But 
what  will  be  the  most  powerful  help 

to  the  wants  of  the  public  is  the  work 
which  is  performed  by  another  in- 
geniously-constructed machine,  which 
can  be  seen  raised  on  a  wooden  tower 
on  the  top  of  Somerset  House,  which 
supplies  that  part  of  the  town  with 
water,  but  with  some  difficulty,  and  a 
smaller  quantity  than  could  be  desired. 
It  is  somewhat  like  our  Samaritane 
water- work  on  the  Pont  Neuf;  and 
on  the  raising-pump  they  have  added 
an  impulsion  which  increases  the 
force ;  but  for  what  we  obtain  by  the 
power  of  the  Seine,  they  employ  one 
or  two  horses,  which  incessantly  turn 


vention  is  confirmed  by  another  brief  description  of  it, 
which  occurs  in  the  narrative  of  the  travels  of  Cosmo, 
Grand  Duke  of  Tuscany,  in  England,  some  years  later. 
Count  Magalotti,  the  narrator,  says,  "  It  raises  water 
more  than  forty  geometrical  feet,  by  the  power  of  one 
man  only ;  and  in  a  very  short  space  of  time  will  draw  up 
four  vessels  of  water  through  a  tube  or  channel  not  more 
than  a  span  in  width,  on  which  account  it  is  considered  to 
be  of  greater  service  to  the  public  than  the  other  machine 
at  Somerset  House."  It  will  thus  be  observed  that  the 
Duke's  secretary  entertained  a  different  opinion  from  that 
expressed  by  M.  Sorbiere  as  to  the  comparative  merits 
of  the  two  engines  spoken  of. 

It  is  worthy  of  remark  that  the  incidental  accounts  of 
these  two  foreigners  contain  almost  the  only  contem- 
porary information  we  possess  as  to  the  character  of  the 
Marquis's  invention.  English  writers  of  the  time  are 
almost  entirely  silent  about  it;  and  when  Dr.  Hooke, 
the  learned  Secretary  of  the  Royal  Society,  refers  to  the 
contrivance,  it  is  in  a  tone  of  ridicule  rather  than  of 
praise.  Writing  to  Mr.  Boyle,  in  1667,  he  characterises 
the  definition  or  description  of  the  water-commanding 
engine  as  "  so  purely  romantic  that  it  would  serve  one 
rarely  to  fill  up  half  a  dozen  pages  in  the  '  History  of 
Fortunatus  his  Wishing  Cap.'  ...  "I  was,"  he  adds, 
"  since  my  return  to  London  to  see  this  engine,  when 
I  found  Caltrop  [Kaltoff  ],  his  chief  engineer,  to  laugh 
at  it ;  and  as  far  as  I  was  able  to  see  it,  it  seemed  one  of 
the  perpetual-motion  fallacies;  of  which  kind  Caltrop 
himself,  and  two  or  three  others  that  I  know,  are  labour- 
ing at  this  time  in  vain  to  make,  but  after  several  ways ; 
and  nothing  but  costly  experience  will  make  them  desist." 1 

It  is  difficult  to   gather  from  the  statements  of  Sor- 

the  machine,  as  the  river  changes  its 
course  twice  a  day,  and  the  spring  or 
wheels  which  are  used  for  the  ebbing 
tide  would  not  do  for  the  flow." — 

Sorbiere,   '  Relation   d'un  Voyage  en 

1  The  Works  of  the  Hon.  Robert 
Boyle,  v.  532. 

c  2 


biere  and  Cosmo  de  Medici  what  was  the  precise  nature 
of  the  Marquis's  hydraulic  apparatus.  There  is  no  men- 
tion whatever  of  steam,  either  in  their  accounts  or  in 
that  of  Dr.  Hooke ;  but  the  latter  does  not  seem  to 
have  been  allowed  to  examine  the  details  of  the  machine. 
From  the  mention  by  Sorbiere  of  the  "  four  large 
buckets  of  water,"  and  by  Cosmo's  secretary,  of  "  four 
vessels  of  water,"  it  might  possibly  have  been  only  an 
improved  hydraulic  apparatus,  worked  by  a  man  instead 
of  a  horse.  In  order,  therefore,  to  obtain  a  clue  to  the 
real  nature  of  the  machine  we  find  it  necessary  to  resort 
to  the  Marquis's  '  Scantlings'  for  his  own  account  of  its 
action,  and  we  find  it  in  article  No.  68,  which  runs  as 
follows : — 

"  68.  An  admirable  and  most  forcible  way  to  drive  up  water  by 
fire,  not  by  drawing  or  sucking  it  upwards,  for  that  must  be  as  the 
Philosopher  calleth  it,  Intra  sphceram  activitatis,  which  is  but  at  ,suoh 
a  distance.  But  this  way  hath  no  Bounder,  if  the  Vessels  be  strong 
enough ;  for  I  have  taken  a  piece  of  a  whole  Cannon,  whereof  the 
end  was  burst,  and  filled  it  three-quarters  full  of  water,  stopping 
and  scruing  up  the  broken  end ;  as  also  the  Touch-hole ;  and  making 
a  constant  fire  under  it,  within  twenty-four  hours  it  burst  and  made 
a  great  crack :  So  that  having  a  way  to  make  my  Vessels,  so  that 
they  are  strengthened  by  the  force  within  them,  and  the  one  to  fill 
after  the  other,  I  have  seen  the  water  run  like  a  constant  Fountaine- 
stream  forty  foot  high ;  one  Vessel  of  water  rarified  by  fire  driveth 
up  forty  of  cold  water.  And  a  man  that  tends  the  work  is  but  to 
turn  two  Cocks,  that  one  Vessel  of  water  being  consumed,  another 
begins  to  force  and  refill  with  cold  water,  and  so  successively,  the 
fire  being  tended  and  kept  constant,  which  the  self-same  Person 
may  likewise  abundantly  perform  in  the  interim  between  the 
necessity  of  turning  the  said  Cocks." 

From  this  account  we  gather  that  the  Marquis  had 
contrived  a  plan  for  raising  water  by  the  expansive  force 
of  steam,  after  the  manner  of  De  Caus,  but  with  im- 
portant modifications  and  improvements.  It  had  obvi- 
ously occurred  to  him,  that  by  generating  the  steam  in 
a  separate  vessel,  and  conveying  it  by  means  of  a  'suit- 
able pipe  to  a  second  closed  vessel,  he  could  thereby 


make  it  expel  the  water  which  the  latter  contained  by 
pressing  upon  its  surface,  as  in  De  Caus's  apparatus. 
The  admission  of  the  steam  could  easily  be  regulated  by 
the  turning  of  two  cocks  ;  one  to  admit  the  steam  from 
the  boiler,  and  the  other  to  allow  the  exit  of  the  water. 
On  the  expulsion  of  the  water,  and  the  production  of 
a  vacuum  by  the  condensation  of  the  contained  steam, 
the  empty  vessel  would  at  once  be  refilled  by  the  action 
of  the  atmospheric  pressure  on  the  surface  of  the  water 
to  be  raised.  It  is  probable  that  this  engine  was 
—in  the  absence  of  a  feed-pump,  of  which  there  is 
no  mention — provided  with  two  boilers  as  well  as  with 
the  two  cisterns  in  which  the  "forcing  and  refilling" 
went  on,  so  as  to  maintain  the  "  constant  fountain-stream" 
which  the  Marquis  describes.  But  the  precise  arrange- 
ment of  parts  by  which  he  accomplished  this  object  must 
ever  remain  a  matter  of  mere  conjecture. 

We  have  other  distinct  indications  of  a  steam-engine 
in  the  Marquis's  98th,  99th,  and  100th  Articles,  which 
ought  to  be  read  in  connection  with  the  68th  Article  : 
they  run  as  follows  : — 

"  98.  An  Engine  so  contrived,  that  working  the  Primum  mobile 
forward  or  backward,  upward  or  downward,  circularly  or  corner- 
wise,  to  and  fro,  streight,  upright  or  downright,  yet  the  pretended 
Operation  continueth,  and  advanceth  none  of  the  motions  above- 
mentioned,  hindering,  much  less  stopping  the  other ;  but  unani- 
mously, and  with  harmony  agreeing  they  all  augment  and  contribute 
strength  unto  the  intended  work  and  operation  :  And  therefore  I  call 
this  A  Semi-omnipotent  Engine,  and  do  intend  that  a  Model  thereof  be 
buried  with  me." 

"99.  How  to  make  one  pound  weight  to  raise  an  hundred  as  high 
as  one  pound  falleth,  and  yet  the  hundred  pound  descending  doth 
what  nothing  less  than  one  hundred  pound  can  effect." 

"  100.  Upon  so  potent  a  help  as  these  two  last-mentioned  Inven- 
tions a  Waterwork  is  by  many  years  experience  and  labour  so 
advantageously  by  me  contrived,  that  a  Child's  force  bringeth  up 
an  hundred  foot  high  an  incredible  quantity  of  water,  even  two 
foot  Diameter,  so  naturally,  that  the  work  will  not  be  heard  even 
into  the  next  Koom;  and  with  so  great  ease  and  Geometrical 
Symmetry,  that  though  it  work  day  and  night  from  one  end  of  the 


year  to  the  other,  it  will  not  require  forty  shillings  reparation  to 
the  whole  Engine,  nor  hinder  ones  day-work.  And  I  may  boldly 
call  it  The  most  stupendous  Work  in  the  whole  world :  not  onely  with 
little  charge  to  drein  all  sorts  of  Mines,  and  furnish  Cities  with 
water,  though  never  so  high  seated,  as  well  to  keep  them  sweet, 
running  through  several  streets,  and  so  performing  the  work  of 
Scavengers,  as  well  as  furnishing  the  Inhabitants  with  sufficient 
water  for  their  private  occasions ;  but  likewise  supplying  Eivers 
with  sufficient  to  maintaine  and  make  them  portable  from  Towne  to 
Towne,  and  for  the  bettering  of  Lands  all  the  way  it  runs ;  with 
many  more  advantageous,  and  yet  greater  effects  of  Profit,  Admira- 
tion, and  Consequence.  So  •  that  deservedly  I  deem  this  Invention 
to  crown  my  Labours,  to  reward  my  Expences,  and  make  my 
Thoughts  acquiesce  in  way  of  further  Inventions  :  This  making  up 
the  whole  Century,  and  preventing  any  further  trouble  to  the 
Reader  for  the  present,  meaning  to  leave  to  Posterity  a  Book, 
wherein  under  each  of  these  Heads  the  means  to  put  in  execution 
and  visible  trial  all  and  every  of  these  Inventions,  with  the  shape 
and  form  of  all  things  belonging  to  them,  shall  be  Printed  by  Brass- 

The  promised  book  was  never  written,  and  we  are 
accordingly  left  in  uncertainty  as  to  the  precise  character 
of  the  Marquis's  inventions.  That  he  had  a  full  convic- 
tion of  the  great  powers  of  steam,  as  well  as  of  its  manage- 
ability and  extensive  practical  uses,  is  sufficiently  clear  ; 
but  that  he  ever  erected  any  engines  after  the  plans 
thus  summarily  described  is  matter  of  considerable 
doubt.  It  is  remarkable  that,  notwithstanding  the  number 
and  variety  of  his  suggested  inventions,  not  a  single 
model  or  machine  constructed  by  the  Marquis  or  his 
skilled  workmen  has  been  preserved.  Mr.  Dircks,  who 
has  collected  and  published  all  that  is  likely  to  be  brought 
to  light  relative  to  the  life  and  works  of  the  Marquis, 
and  has  laboured  at  his  task  with  a  rare  love  and  enthu- 
siasm for  his  subject,  naturally  expresses  surprise  that 
"  none  of  the  many  cabinets  of  the  curious  seem  to  have 
possessed  any  model  or  work  of  his  production  ;  not  even 
the  indefatigable  Tradescant,  although  his  museum  was 
at  Lambeth." ]  But  it  is  probable,  as  we  have  already 

1  Dircks's  '  Life  and  Times,'  &c.,  356. 

CHAP.  I. 



observed,  that  the  Marquis's  '  Scantlings/  notwithstand- 
ing his  statement  that  he  had  "  tried  and  perfected"  the  in- 
ventions of  which  he  speaks,  were  rather  the  foreshadow- 
ings  of  things  to  come  than  the  descriptions  of  things 
that  had  actually  been  executed.  Thus,  no  one  pretends 
that  the  Marquis  ever  constructed  a  steamboat,  and  yet 
his  description  of  a  vessel  "  to  work  itself  against  wind 
and  tide,  yea,  both,  without  the  help  of  man  or  beast," 
can  apply  to  nothing  else.1  "  This  engine,"  said  he,  "  is 
applicable  to  any  vessel  or  boat  whatsoever,  without 
being  therefore  made  on  purpose,  and  worketh  these 
effects  :  it  roweth,  it  draweth,  it  driveth,  (if  need  be)  to 
pass  London  Bridge  against  the  stream  at  low-water, 
and  a  boat  laying  at  anchor,  the  engine  may  be  used  for 
loading  or  unloading."  But  it  would  not  be  possible  for 
any  one  to  make  an  engine  after  the  description  given 
in  the  '  Scantlings ;'  and  to  a  generation  unacquainted 
with  the  powers  of  steam,  his  suggestions  would  be 
altogether  without  meaning. 

The  strongest  evidence  which  could  be  adduced  of  the 
ambiguity  of  the  Marquis's  'Articles'  is  to  be  found  in 
the  fact  that  the  various  ingenious  writers  who  have 
given  plans  of  his  supposed  engine  have  represented  it 
in  widely  different  forms.  Farey  assumes  that  it  worked 
by  the  expansive  force  of  steam ;  Bourne,  that  it  worked 
by  condensation  and  atmospheric  pressure  ;  Dircks  infers 
that  it  included  such  ingenious  expedients  as  valves  and 
even  a  four-way  cock,  worked  by  a  lever-handle  ;  Stuart, 
that  it  contained  a  cylinder  and  piston,  and  was,  in  fact, 
a  complete  high-pressure  lever-engine.  Again,  the 
drawings  of  the  various  writers  on  engineering  who 
have  attempted  to  reproduce  the  engine  —  of  Stuart, 

1  Mr.  Woodcroft  is,  however,  of 
opinion  that  the  Marquis's  contrivance 
was  but  a  boat  with  paddle-wheels, 
with  an  axis  across  it,  which  axis 
was  turned  by  the  action  of  the  stream 
on  the  paddles,  and  thus  wound  up  a 

rope  and  dragged  the  boat  onward  to 
the  other  end  of  the  rope  fixed  by  an 
anchor ;  certainly  a  more  clumsy  and 
less  notable  contrivance  than  that  of 
a  htt-amboat. 


Galloway,  Millington,  and  Dircks— differ   in  essential 
respects.  4 

When  Watt  was  on  one  occasion  asked  for  his  opinion 
as  to  the  precise  nature  of  the  Marquis's  contrivance, 
his  answer  was,  that  the  descriptions  given  were  too 
obscure  to  enable  any  definite  opinion  to  be  formed  on 
the  subject ;  but  he  thought  that  the  expansive  power 
of  steam  was  the  principle  on  which  the  engine  worked. 
He  added,  that  no  one  could  possibly  erect  an  engine 
after  the  Marquis's  6  Scantlings,'  and  that  any  inventor 
desirous  of  constructing  a  steam-engine  would  have  to 
begin  again  at  the  beginning.  But  though  the  Marquis 
did  not  leave  the  steam-engine  in  such  a  state  as  to  be 
taken  up  and  adopted  as  a  practicable  working  power, 
he  at  least  advanced  it  several  important  steps.  In  this 
world,  it  is  not  given  to  man  to  finish ;  to  persevere, 
to  improve,  and  to  advance,  are  all  that  can  be  hoped  for ; 
and  these  are  enough  for  the  real  philosopher. 

Little  remains  to  be  told  of  the  unfortunate  Marquis's 
history.  His  water-commanding  engine  proved  of  no 
service  to  him.  It  only  increased  his  embarrassments 
by  involving  him  in  further  debts.  The  Restoration, 
though  it  gave  him  back  his  estates,  did  not  mend  his 
fortunes,  and  he  continued  to  importune  his  friends  for 
loans.  He  sought  access  to  the  King  by  petition  ;  but 
it  became  more  and  more  difficult  to  approach  him.  On 
one  occasion  he  tried  to  accomplish  his  purpose  through 
the  influence  of  his  Majesty's  mistress,  Lady  Castlemaine. 
Provided  she  could  persuade  the  king  to  grant  his 
request,  he  offered  to  present  to  her  "  a  thousand  pieces 
to  buy  her  a  little  jewel,  which  she  deserves  to  wear 
every  day  of  the  week.  And  if  it  please  God  I  live  but 
two  years,"  he  added,  "  I  will,  out  of  the  profits  of  my 
water-commanding  engine,  appropriate  four  hundred 

pounds  yearly,  for  ever,  to  her  Grace's  disposal 

all  which,  as  I  am  a  gentleman  and  a  Christian,  shall  be 
faithfully  and  most  thankfully  performed ;  though  the 
benefit  I  pretend  to  by  my  petition  will  not  amount  to 


what  my  gratitude  obliges,  yet  the  satisfaction  which 
it  will  be  to  my  mind,  and  my  credit  therein  at  stake, 
I  value  at  ten  times  as  much.  And  this  will  enable  me 
to  place  my  Water-commanding  Engine,  when  I  am 
certained  of  an  hundred  pounds  a  day  profit,  without 
further  troubling  the  king  or  anybody." 1 

All  his  piteous  importunity  proved  of  no  avail.  His 
friends  turned  aside  from  his  petitionings,  and  the 
king  would  give  him  no  help.  He  came  to  be  regarded 
as  a  crack-brained  enthusiast,  and  a  wild  projector  of 
impracticable  things.  He  could  not  find  any  one  to 
believe  in  his  water-commanding  engine,  though  he 
himself  regarded  it  as  of  greater  worth  than  either  his 
titles  or  his  estates.  It  had  been  his  own  creation — the 
child  of  his  brain — the  product  of  studies  and  experi- 
ments extending  over  nearly  forty  years.  But  what 
signified  all  this  if  no  one  would  make  use  of  the 
invention  ? 

His  difficulties  and  embarrassments  grew  from  day  to 
day ;  and  his  projects  met  with  increased  contumely 
and  even  contempt.  None  valued  them,  because  none 
understood  them.  It  was  even  proposed  to  appro- 
priate to  other  purposes  the  premises  at  Yauxhall,  on 
which  he  so  much  plumed  himself,  but  which  he  had 
been  unable  to  purchase.  To  prevent  this,  he  again 
petitioned  the  king  in  1666,  representing  that  he  had 
expended  9000£.  in  building  the  house  he  occupied  there 
as  "  an  operatory  for  engineers  and  artists  to  make 
public  works  in,"  and  "  above  50,000^.  trying  conclu- 
sions of  arts  in  that  operatory  which  may  be  useful  to 
his  Majesty  and  his  kingdom;"  and  he  concluded  by 
praying  that  Yauxhall  might  be  granted  to  him  at  a 
fee-farm  rent.  The  Marchioness,  his  wife,  at  the  same 
time  petitioned  the  House  of  Lords,  representing  the 
state  of  poverty  to  which  her  husband  had  been  reduced, 
and  that,  in  consequence  of  an  execution  having  been 

1  Letter  to  sonic  person  unknown,  quoted  by  Mr.  Dircks  from  the  Badminton 
MSS.— Dircks's  'Life,  Times,' &c.,  276. 


put  in  at  Worcester  House,  through  a  debt  of  6000/. 
which  the  Marquis  had  incurred  in  1642  to  pay  the 
garrison  of  Monmouth,  then  in  a  state  of  mutiny,  he 
was  actually  threatened  to  be  turned  out  of  house  and 
home.  It  is  riot  known  what  came  of  this  petition  ; 
but  shortly  after  its  presentation  the  poor  Marquis  was 
beyond  all  worldly  help.  Broken  in  health,  harassed, 
embarrassed,  and  disappointed,  he  died  in  April,  1667, 
in  the  sixty-sixth  year  of  his  age,  and  his  remains  were 
conveyed  to  Raglan  for  interment  in  the  family  vault. 

It  will  be  remembered  that  the  Marquis  concluded  the 
98th  article  of  his  '  Century '  with  the  words,  "  I  call 
this  a  semi-omnipotent  engine,  and  do  intend  that  a 
model  thereof  be  buried  with  me."  A  diligent  search 
for  the  model  has  recently  been  made  in  the  vault  under 
Raglan  church,  under  the  direction  of  Mr.  Berinet 
Woodcroft,  whose  enthusiasm  as  a  collector  of  primitive 
engines  and  machines  is  so  well  known  ;  but  the  search 
proved  unsuccessful,  and  no  traces  of  the  Marquis's 
model  could  be  found. 

KDINS  OF  RAGLAN   CASTLE.     [By    Percival  Skelton.J 




AFTER  the  death  of  the  Marquis  of  Worcester,  the 
Marchioness,  his  widow,  made  various  efforts  to  turn  his 
inventions  to  account.  Sceptical  though  the  world  was 
as  to  their  utility,  she  fully  believed  in  them  ;  and  now 
that  he  was  gone,  it  would  have  been  dishonouring  to 
his  memory  to  entertain  a  doubt  as  to  his  engine  being 
able  to  do  all  that  he  had  promised.  The  Marchioness 
had  not  only  to  maintain  the  fame  of  her  dear  husband, 
but  to  endeavour,  if  possible,  to  pay  the  debts  he  had 
contracted  in  prosecuting  his  inventions.  She  accor- 
dingly sought  to  interest  persons  of  authority  and 
influence  in  the  water-commanding  engine,  and  seized 
every  opportunity  of  bringing  it  into  notice. 

To  such  an  extent  did  the  Marchioness  carry  her  zeal, 
that  her  friends  began  to  fear  lest  her  mind  was  be- 
coming disordered ;  and  her  father-confessor  was  re- 
quested to  expostulate  with  her  as  to  the  impropriety 
of  her  conduct.  He  accordingly  implored  her  to  desist 
from  her  vain  endeavours  to  get  "  great  sums  of  money 
from  the  King  to  pay  her  deceased  lord's  debts,  en- 
riching herself  by  the  great  machine,  and  the  like." 
He  added  that  he  feared  "  the  devil,  to  make  his  sugges- 
tions the  more  prevalent,  doth  make  use  of  some  motives 
that  seem  plausible,  as  of  paying  your  lord's  debts,  of 
founding  monasteries,  and  the  like ;''  pointing  out  that 
the  end  did  not  justify  the  means,  and  that  such  under- 
takings were  improper  for  her  ladyship,  and  by  no 
means  likely  to  be  attended  with  success.  It  is  not  im- 


probable  that  these  representations  had  their  effect ;  the 
more  especially  as  the  Marchioness  was  no  more  suc- 
cessful in  inducing  the  public  to  adopt  the  invention 
than  the  Marquis  himself  had  been.  Accordingly,  the 
water-commanding  engine  very  shortly  dropped  out  of 
sight,  and  in  the  course  of  a  few  years  was  almost 
entirely  forgotten. 

The  steam-engine  project,  however,  did  not  die;  it 
only  slept.  It  had  been  the  fruit  thus  far  of  noble 
effort,  of  persevering  self-denial,  and  unquestionable  skill. 
What  was  good  in  it  would  yet  live,  and  reappear  per- 
haps in  other  forms,  to  vindicate  the  sagacity  and  fore- 
sight of  its  inventor.  Even  during  the  Marquis's  lifetime 
other  minds  besides  his  were  diligently  pursuing  the 
same  subject.  Indeed,  his  enthusiasm  was  of  a  kind 
especially  calculated  to  inflame  other  minds;  and  the 
success  he  had  achieved  with  his  engine,  imperfect 
though  it  might  be,  was  of  so  novel  and  original  a  cha- 
racter that  it  could  not  fail  to  excite  a  warm  interest 
amongst  men  of  like  mechanical  genius. 

One  of  the  most  distinguished  of  these  was  Sir  Samuel 
Morland,  appointed  Master  of  Mechanics  to  Charles  II. 
immediately  after  the  Restoration.  He  had  been  for 
some  time  previously  in  the  employment  of  the  Pro- 
tectorate. He  formed  one  of  the  embassy  to  Sweden, 
with  Whitlocke,  in  1653.  Some  years  later  he  took  an 
active  part  in  the  relief  of  the  sufferings  of  the  per- 
secuted Protestants  of  Piedmont  —  whose  history  he 
afterwards  wrote, — having  been  appointed  Commissioner 
Extraordinary  for  the  distribution  of  the  collected 
moneys.  For  some  time  he  officiated  as  assistant  to 
Thurloe,  Crom well's  secretary ;  and  it  was  while  acting 
in  this  capacity  that  he  became  cognisant  of  a  plot 
against  the  life  of  Charles  II.,  then  in  exile.  Morland 
divulged  the  plot  to  the  king's  friends,  and  thereby 
perhaps  sa\7ed  his  life.  For  this  service,  Charles,  on 
his  Restoration,  presented  him  with  a  medal,  as  a  badge 




of  his  signal  loyalty,  and  also  appointed  him  Master  of 

From  that  time  until  the  close  of  his  life,  Morland 
devoted  himself  entirely  to  mechanical  studies.  Among 
his  various  inventions  may  be  mentioned  the  speaking- 
trumpet;1  two  arithmetical  machines,  of  which  he  pub- 
lished an  illustrated  description ;  the  capstan  to  heave 
ships'  anchors ;  and  various  kinds  of  pumps  and  water 
engines.  His  pumps  were  of  a  very  powerful  arid 
effective  kind.  One  of  them,  worked  by  eight  men, 
forced  water  from  the  Thames  at  Blackmoor  Park,  near 
Winkfield,  to  the  top  of  Windsor  Castle.  He  also 
devoted  himself  to  the  improvement  of  the  fire-engine, 
in  which  he  employed  a  cylinder  and  piston,  as  well  as 
a  stuffing-box.  Towards  the  later  years  of  his  life,  he 
applied  himself  more  particularly  to  the  study  of  the 
powers  and  uses  of  steam.2  In  1677,  we  find  him  taking 
a  lease  of  Yauxhall,  most  probably  the  identical  house 
occupied  by  the  Marquis  of  Worcester,  where  he  conducted 
a  series  of  experiments  as  to  the  power  requisite  to  raise 
water  by  cylinders  of  different  dimensions.3  It  is  not, 

1  We  are  informed  that  Morland's 
Tuba   Stentorphornica,    or    speaking- 
trumpet,  is  still  to  be  seen  at  Trinity 
College,  Cambridge.      Butler,   in   his 

*  Hudibras,'    alludes    to    the    inven- 
tion : — 

"  I  heard  a  formidable  voice 
Loud  as  the  stentorphornic  noise." 

2  His  first  idea  seems  to  have  been 
to   employ   gunpowder  for   the    pro- 
duction of  motive  power,  for  in  the 

*  Calendar  of  State  Papers  '  (Dom)  we 
find   the    following   entry :  —  "  Deer, 
llth,  1691.— Warrant  for  a  grant  to 
Sir  Samuel  Morland  of  the  sole  use 
for  14  years  of  his  invention  for  rais- 
ing water  out  of  pits,  &c.,  to  a  reason- 
able height,  by  the  force  of  powder 
and  air  conjointly." — ('  Entry  Book,' 
V.,  p.  85.)     In  vol.  XLVL,  p.  49,  we 
find  this  entry  under  the  same  date : — 
"  Warrant  for  a  grant  to  Sir  S.  Morland 

of  the  sole  making  of  an  engine  in- 
vented by  him  for  raising  water  in 
mines  or  pits,  draining  marshes,  or 
supplying  buildings  with  water." 

3  The  *  Harleian  Miscellany '  (Brit. 
Mus.),  No.  5771,  contains  the  follow- 
ing brief  tract  in  French,  written  by 
Morland  in  1682.  It  is  on  vellum, 
and  entitled  *  Les  Principes  de  la 
Nouvelle  Force  de  Feu :'  —  "  L'eau 
estant  evaperee  par  la  force  de  feu, 
ces  vapeurs  demandent  incontinant 
une  plus  grand'espace  [environ  deux 
mille  fois]  que  1'eau  n'occupoiet  au- 
paravant,  et  plus  tost  que  d'etre  tou- 
jours  emprisonn6s,  feroient  crever  une 
piece  de  canon.  Mais  estant  bien 
gouvernees  selon  les  regies  de  la  sta- 
tique,  et  par  science  reduites  a  la 
mesure  an  poids,  et  a  la  balance,  alors 
elles  portent  paisiblement  leurs  far- 
deaux  [comme  des  bons  chevaux]  et 
ainsy  seroient  elles  du  grand  usage  an 




however,  known  that  he  ever  erected  a  steam-engine. 
If  he  did,  no  account  of  its  performances  has  been 

Morland's  inventions  proved  of  no  greater  advan- 
tage to  him  than  those  of  the  Marquis  of  Worcester 
had  done.  His  later  years  were  spent  in  poverty 
and  blindness,  and  he  must  have  perished  but  for  the 
charitable  kindness  of  Archbishop  Tenison  and  a  few 
other  friends.  Evelyn  gives  the  following  interesting 
account  of  a  visit  to  him  in  October,  1695,  two  months 
before  his  death  : — "  The  Archbishop  and  myself  went 
to  Hammersmith  to  visit  Sir  Samuel  Morland,  who  was 
entirely  blind;  a  very  mortifying  sight.  He  showed 
me  his  invention  of  writing,  which  was  very  ingenious ; 
also  his  wooden  calendar,  which  instructed  him  all  by 
feeling,  and  other  pretty  and  useful  inventions  of  mills, 
pumps,  &c.,  and  the  pump  he  had  erected  that  serves 
water  to  his  garden,  and  to  passengers,  with  an  inscrip- 
tion, and  brings  from  a  filthy  part  of  the  Thames  now 
near  it,  a  most  perfect  and  pure  water.  He  had  newly 
buried  200/.  worth  of  music  books,  being,  as  he  said,  love 
songs  and  vanity.  He  plays  himself  psalms  and  religious 
hymns  on  the  theorbo."  The  inscription  to  which  Evelyn 
refers  was  on  a  stone  tablet  fixed  on  the  wall  of  his 
house,  still  preserved,  which  runs  thus  : — "  SIR  SAMUEL 
MORLAND'S  WELL,  the  use  of  which  he  freely  gives  to 
all  persons :  hoping  that  none  who  shall  come  after  him, 
will  adventure  to  incur  God's  displeasure,  by  denying 
a  cup  of  cold  water  (provided  at  another's  cost  and  not 
their  own)  to  either  neighbour,  stranger,  passenger,  or 
poor  thirsty  beggar.  July  8,  1695." 

The  next  prominent  experimenter  on  the  powers  of 

gendre  humain,  particulierement  pour 
1'elevation  des  eaux,  selon  la  table 
suivante  que  marque  les  nombres  des 
livres  qui  pourrant  estre  leve's  1800 
fois  par  heure,  a  6  pouces  de  levee,  par 
de  cylindres  a  moitie  remplies  d'eau, 

ausi  bien  que  les  divers  diamctres  et 
profondeurs  dc-s  dit  cylindres."  Tables 
are  then  given,  showing  the  pmvcr 
requisite  to  raise  given  quantities  of 
water  to  certain  heights  by  cylinders 
of  different  dimensions. 





steam  was  Dr.  Dionysius  Papin.  He  was  born  at  Blois 
about  the  middle  of  the  seventeenth  century,  and  educated 
to  the  profession  of  medicine.  After  taking  his  degree  at 
Paris,  he  turned  his  attention  more  particularly  to  the 
study  of  physics,  which  soon  occupied  his  whole  atten- 
tion ;  and  under  the  celebrated  Huyghens,  then  resident 
in  that  city,  he  made  rapid  progress.  He  would,  doubt- 
less, have  risen  to  great  distinction  in  his  own  country, 
but  for  the  circumstance  of  his  being  a  Protestant.  To 
escape  the  persecutions  to  which  all  members  of  that 
persuasion  were  then  subject,  Papin  fled  from  France  in 
1681,  together  with  thousands  of  his  countrymen,  a  few 
years  before  the  Revocation  of  the  Edict  of  Nantes. 
He  took  refuge  in  London,  where  he  was  welcomed  by 
men  of  science,  and  more  especially  by  the  celebrated 
Boyle,  under  whose  auspices  he  was  introduced  to  the 


Eoyal  Society,  of  which  he  was  appointed  Curator  at  an 
annual  salary. 

It  formed  part  of  Papin's  duty,  in  connection  with 
his  new  office,  to  produce  an  experiment  at  each  meeting 
of  the  Society.  He  was  thus  induced  to  prosecute  the 
study  of  physical  science ;  and  in  order  to  stimulate  the 
interest  of  the  members,  he  sought  to  introduce  new 
subjects  from  time  to  time  to  their  notice.  One  of  the 
greatest  novelties  of  his  "entertainments"  was  the  pro- 
duction of  his  well-known  Digester,  which  excited  a 
considerable  degree  of  interest;  and  on  one  occasion 
a  philosophical  supper,  cooked  by  the  Digester,  was 
served  up  to  the  Fellows,  of  which  Evelyn  gives  an 
amusing  account  in  his  Diary. 

He  was  led  to  the  invention  of  the  Digester  by  certain 
experiments  which  he  made  for  Boyle.  He  discovered 
that  if  the  vapour  of  boiling  water  could  be  prevented 
escaping,  the  temperature  of  the  water  would  be  raised 
much  above  the  boiling  point ;  and  it  occurred  to 
him  to  employ  this  increased  heat  in  more  effectually 
extracting  nutritious  matter  from  the  bones  of  animals, 
until  then  thrown  away  as  useless.  The  great  strength 
required  for  his  Digester,  and  the  means  he  was  obliged 
to  adopt  for  the  purpose  of  securely  confining  the  cover, 
must  have  early  shown  him  what  a  powerful  agent  he 
was  experimenting  on.  To  prevent  the  bursting  of 
the  vessel  from  the  internal  pressure,  he  was  led  to  the 
invention  of  the  safety-valve,  which  consisted  of  a  small 
moveable  plate,  or  cylinder,  fitted  into  an  opening  in 
the  cover  of  the  boiler,  and  kept  shut  by  a  lever  loaded 
with  a  weight,  capable  of  sliding  along  it  in  the  man- 
ner of  a  steel  yard.  The  pressure  of  the  weight  upon 
the  valve  could  thus  be  regulated  at  pleasure.  When  the 
pressure  became  so  great  as  to  endanger  the  safety  of 
the  boiler,  the  valve  was  forced  up,  and  so  permitted 
the  steam  to  escape.  Although  Papin  was  thus  the 
inventor  of  the  safety-valve,  it  is  a  curious  fact  that  he 


did  not  apply  it  to  the  steam-machine  which  he  subse- 
quently invented,  but  adopted  another  expedient. 

The  reputation  of  Papin  having  extended  to  Germany, 
he  was,  in  1687,  invited  to  fill  the  office  of  Professor  of 
Mathematics  in  the  University  of  Marburg,  and  accepted 
the  appointment.  He  continued,  however,  to  maintain 
a  friendly  correspondence  with  his  scientific  friends  in 
England,  and  communicated  to  the  Royal  Society  the 
results  of  the  experiments  in  physics  which  he  con- 
tinued to  pursue.  In  the  same  year  in  which  he  settled 
at  Marburg,  he  submitted  to  the  Society  an  important 
paper,  which  indicated  the  direction  in  which  his 
thoughts  were  then  running.  It  had  occurred  to  him, 
as  it  had  before  done  to  Hautefeuille,  that  the  explosion 
of  gunpowder  presented  a  ready  means  of  producing 
a  power  to  elevate  a  piston  in  a  tube  or  cylinder,  and 
that,  when  so  raised,  a  vacuum  could  be  formed  under 
the  piston  by  condensing  the  vapour,  and  so  ensuring 
its  return  by  the  pressure  of  the  atmosphere.  He 
thought  that  he  might  thus  be  enabled  to  secure  an 
efficient  moving  force.  But  it  was  found  in  practice, 
that  the  proposed  power  was  too  violent  as  well  as  un- 
certain, and  it  was  shortly  given  up  as  impracticable. 

Papin  next  inquired  whether  his  proposed  elastic 
force  and  subsequent  vacuum  might  not  better  be  pro- 
duced by  means  of  steam.  He  accordingly  entered 
upon  a  series  of  experiments,  which  gradually  led .  him 
to  the  important  conclusions  published  in  his  celebrated 
paper  on  "A  New  Method  of  Obtaining  very  Great 
Moving  Powers  at  Small  Cost,"  which  appeared  in  the 
6Acta  Eruditorum'  of  Leipsic,  in  1790.  "I  felt  con- 
fident," he  there  observes,  "  that  machines  might  be 
constructed  wherein  water,  by  means  of  no  very  intense 
heat,  and  at  small  cost,  might  produce  that  perfect 
vacuum  which  had  failed  to  be  obtained  by  means  of 
gunpowder."  He  accordingly  contrived  a  machine  to 
illustrate  this  idea,  but  it  was  very  imperfect  and  slow 



in  its  action,  as  may  well  be  imagined  from  the  circum- 
stance that  to  produce  the  condensation  he  did  not 
apply  cold,  but  merely  took  away  the  fire!  Still  he 
was  successfully  working  out,  step  by  step,  the  important 
problem  of  steam  power.  He  clearly  perceived  that 
a  piston  might  be  raised  in  a  cylinder  by  the  elastic 
force  of  steam,  and  that  on  the  production  of  a  vacuum 
by  its  condensation,  the  piston  might  be  driven  home 
again  by  the  pressure  of  the  atmosphere.  The  question 
was,  how  was  this  idea  to  be  realised  in  a  practicable 
working  machine  ?  After  many  experiments,  Papin 
had  the  courage  to  make  the  attempt  to  pump  water  by 
atmospheric  pressure  on  a  large  scale.  He  was  em- 
ployed to  erect  machines  after  his  principle,  for  the 
purpose  of  draining  mines  in  Auvergne  and  Westphalia ; 
but  from  the  difficulty  he  experienced  in  procuring  and 
preserving  a  vacuum,  and  the  tediousness  of  the  process, 
his  enterprise  proved  abortive. 

The  truth  is,  that  fertile  though  Papin  was  in  con- 
ception, he  laboured  under  the  greatest  possible  dis- 
advantage in  not  being  a  mechanic.  The  eyes  and 
hands  of  others  are  not  to  be  relied  on  in  the  execution 
of  new  and  untried  machines.  Unless  eyes  and  hands 
be  disciplined  by  experience  in  skilled  work,  and 
inspired  by  intelligence,  they  are  comparatively  useless. 
The  chances  of  success  are  vastly  greater  when  mind, 
eyes,  and  hands,  are  combined  in  one  person.  Hence 
the  unquestionable  fact  that  though  the  motive  power 
of  steam  had  long  been  the  subject  of  ingenious  specula- 
tion and  elaborate  experiment  amongst  scientific  men, 
it  failed  to  be  adopted  as  a  practicable  working  power 
until  it  was  taken  in  hand  by  mechanics — by  such  men 
as  Newcomen,  the  blacksmith  ;  Potter,  the  engine-driver ; 
Brindley,  the  millwright ;  and,  above  all,  by  James  Watt, 
the  mathematical  instrument  maker. 

The  sagacious  foresight  of  Papin  as  to  the  extensive 
applicability  of  steam-power  as  a  motive  agent,  is 


strikingly  shown  by  the  following  passage  in  the  paper 
above  referred  to : — "  If  any  one,"  says  he,  "  will  consider 
the  magnitude  of  the  forces  to  be  obtained  in  this  way 
(i.  e.,  by  the  atmospheric  high-pressure  engine  he  was 
suggesting),  and  the  trifling  expense  at  which  a  suffi- 
cient quantity  of  fuel  can  be  procured,  he  will  certainly 
admit  that  this  very  method  is  far  preferable  to  the  use 
of  gunpowder  above  spoken  of,  especially  as  in  this 
way  a  perfect  vacuum  is  obtained,  and  so  the  incon- 
veniences above  recounted  are  avoided.  In  what 
manner  that  power  can  be  applied  to  draw  water  or 
ore  from  mines,  to  discharge  iron  bullets  to  a  great 
distance,  to  propel  ships  against  the  wind,  and  to  a 
multitude  of  other  similar  purposes,  it  would  be  too 
long  here  to  detail ;  but  each  individual,  according  to 
the  particular  occasion,  must  select  the  construction  of 
machinery  appropriate  to  his  purpose."  This  last  was, 
however,  the  real  difficulty  to  be  overcome.  Steam, 
doubtless,  contained  a  power  to  do  all  these  things ;  but 
as  for  the  machine  that  would  work  quietly,  docilely, 
and  effectively,  in  pumping  water,  discharging  bullets, 
or  propelling  ships,  the  mechanic  had  not  yet  appeared 
that  was  able  to  make  one. 

Papin  was,  however,  a  man  of  great  perseverance ; 
and,  strong  in  his  faith  as  to  the  power  of  steam  to 
propel  ships,  he  gradually  worked  his  way  to  the  con- 
trivance of  a  model  steamboat.  When  in  London,  he 
had  seen  an  experiment  tried  by  the  Prince  Palatine 
Rupert  on  the  Thames,  in  which  a  boat  fitted  with 
revolving  paddles  attached  to  the  two  ends  of  an  axle 
which  received  its  motion  from  a  trundle  working  on 
a  wheel  turned  round  by  horses,  went  with  such  rapidity 
as  to  leave  the  king's  barge,  manned  by  sixteen  rowers, 
far  behind  in  the  race.  The  idea  which  occurred  to 
Papin  was,  to  apply  a  steam  machine  to  drive  the 
paddles,  and  thus  ensure  a  ship's  motion  independent 
of  wind  or  tide.  For  this  purpose,  it  was  necessary  to 




convert  the  alternate  motion  of  the  piston-rod  into 
a  continuous  rotary  one  ;  and  this  he  proposed  to  effect 
"by  having  the  rods  of  the  pistons  fitted  with  teeth, 
which  would  force  round  small  wheels,  toothed  in  like 
manner,  fastened  to  the  axis  of  the  paddles." 

The  use  of  paddle-wheels  in  propelling  boats  had  long 
been  known.  The  Harleian  MSS.  contain  an  Italian 
book  of  sketches,  attributed  to  the  fifteenth  century,  in 
which  there  appears  the  annexed  sketch  of  a  paddle- 
boat.  This  boat  was  evidently  intended  to  be  worked  by 

two  men  turning  the  crank 
by  which  the  paddles  were 
made  to  revolve.  There 
were  many  other  early 
schemes  of  paddle-boats, 
some  of  which  were  pro- 
posed to  be  worked  by  horse- 
power .  The  name  of  Blasco 
Garay  has  often  been  men- 
tioned as  the  first  who  ap- 
plied the  power  of  steam  to  the  driving  of  paddle-boats ; 
but  for  this  there  is  not  the  slightest  foundation.  M.  Ber- 
genroth  informs  us  that  he  has  carefully  examined  all 
the  documents  relating  to  the  trials  of  Blasco  Garay  in 
the  archives  at  Simancas,  but  has  found  no  reference 
whatever  to  steam  as  the  power  employed  in  causing 
the  paddles  to  revolve.1  The  experiments  were  made  at 


1  M.  Bergenroth  says  the  documents 
at  Simancas  consist  of — 1.  A  holo- 
graph letter  of  Blasco  Garay  to  the 
Emperor,  dated  Malaga,  10th  Sept., 
1540,  containing  his  report  on  the  trial 
trip  of  one  of  his  paddle-wheel  ships ; 

2.  The  report  of  the  Captain  Antonio 
Destigarura   on  the  same  trial   trip; 

3.  The  report  of  the  Provcedores  of 
Malaga  concerning  the  same  trip,  dated 
27th  July,   1540 ;    4.  The   report   of 
Blasco  Garay  to  the  Emperor,  dated 
6th  July,  1543,  concerning  the  trial 
trip  of  another  of  his   paddle-wheel 

ships  made  at  Barcelona  in  June, 
1543  ;  5.  A  letter  of  Blasco  Garay  to 
Carrs,  dated  20th  June,  1543.  In 
none  of  these  is  there  to  be  found  any 
reference  to  steam-power ;  but  only  to 
the  power  of  men  employed  in  driving 
the  paddle-wheels.  This  is  confirmed 
by  the  independent  examination  of  the 
same  documents  by  J.  Macgregor, 
Esq.,  of  the  Temple,  who  gives  the 
result  in  a  Letter  to  Bennet  Woodcraft, 
Esq.,  inserted  as  a  note  to  the  '  Abridg- 
ments of  the  Specifications  relating  to 
Steam  Propulsion,'  pp.  105-7. 


Malaga  and  Barcelona  respectively,  in  the  years  1540 
and  1543  :  in  one  the  vessel  was  propelled  by  a  paddle- 
wheel  on  each  side  worked  by  twenty-five  men,  and  in 
the  other  by  a  paddle-wheel  worked  by  forty  men. 

It  appears  probable  that  although  others  before  Papin 
had  speculated  as  to  the  possibility  of  constructing  a  boat 
to  be  driven  by  the  power  of  steam,  he  was  the  first  to 
test  the  theory  by  actual  experiment ;  the  first  to  con- 
struct a  model  steamboat.  His  first  experiments  were 
doubtless  failures.  The  engine  contrived  by  himself 
was  found  inapplicable  to  the  driving  of  ships,  as  it  had 
been  to  the  pumping  of  mines ;  and  it  was  not  until  he 
saw  the  model  of  Savery's  engine  exhibited  to  the  Eoyal 
Society  of  London,  in  1698,  and  witnessed  the  trial  of  the 
same  inventors  paddle-wheel  boat  on  the  Thames  in  the 
course  of  the  same  year  that  it  occurred  to  him  to  com- 
bine the  two  contrivances  in  one,  and  apply  Savery's 
engine  to  drive  Savery's  paddle-wheels.  Returning  to 
Marburg,  he  proceeded  with  his  experiments,  and  in- 
formed Liebnitz  that  he  had  employed  both  suction  and 
pressure  by  steam ;  that  he  had  made  a  model  of  a  car- 
riage propelled  by  this  force,  which  succeeded  ;  and  he 
hoped  that  the  same  power  would  answer  for  boats. 
Papin  prosecuted  his  idea  with  great  zeal,  trying  many 
expedients,  encountering  many  difficulties,  and  meeting 
with  many  disappointments.  At  length,  after  about 
fifteen  years'  labour,  he  succeeded  in  constructing  a 
model  engine,  fitted  in  a  boat — "une  petite  machine 
d'unvaisseau  a  roues" — which  worked  to  his  satisfaction. 
His  next  object  was  to  get  his  model  transported  to 
London,  to  exhibit  it  on  the  Thames.  "  It  is  important," 
he  writes  to  Liebnitz  (7th  July,  1707),  "that  my  new 
construction  of  vessel  should  be  put  to  the  proof  in  a 
seaport  like  London,  where  there  is  depth  enough  to 
apply  the  new  invention,  which,  by  means  of  fire,  will 
render  one  or  two  men  capable  of  producing  more  eifect 
than  some  hundreds  of  rowers."  Papin  had  consider- 


able  difficulty  in  obtaining  the  requisite  permission  from 
the  authorities  to  enable  his  model  to  pass  from  the 
Fulda  to  the  Weser ;  but  at  length  he  succeeded,  and 
the  little  vessel  reached  Miinden,  when,  to  Papin's  great 
grief,  it  was,  seized  by  the  boatmen  of  the  river,  and 
barbarously  destroyed. 

The  year  after  this  calamity  befel  Papin's  machine  he 
wrote  an  urgent  letter  to  his  old  friends  of  the  Eoyal 
Society  at  London,  asking  them  to  advance  him  sufficient 
money  to  construct  another  engine  "  and  to  fit  it  so  that 
it  might  be  applied  for  the  rowing  of  ships."  The 
Society,  however,  did  not  see  their  way  to  assisting 
Papin  in  the  manner  proposed,  most  likely  because  of 
the  expense  as  well  as  uncertainty  of  the  experiment. 
Two  years  later,  worn  out  by  work  and  anxiety,  the 
illustrious  exile  died ;  and  it  was  left  for  other  labourers 
to  realise  the  great  ideas  he  had  formed  as  to  locomotion 
by  steam-power. 

The  apparently  resultless  labours  of  these  men  will 
serve  to  show  what  a  long,  anxious,  and  toilsome  process 
the  invention  of  the  steam-engine  has  been.  The  early 
inventors  had  not  the  gratification  of  seeing  their  toils 
rewarded  by  even  the  faintest  glimmering  of  practical 
success.  One  after  another,  they  took  up  the  subject, 
spent  days  and  nights  of  study  over  it,  and,  laying  down 
their  lives,  there  left  it.  To  many  the  study  brought 
nothing  but  anxiety,  toil,  distress,  and  sometimes  ruin ; 
while  some  fairly  broke  their  hearts  over  it.  But  it  was 
never  abandoned.  Disregarding  the  fate  of  their  pre- 
decessors, one  labourer  after  another  resumed  the  inves- 
tigation, advancing  it  by  further  stages,  until  at  length 
the  practicable  working  steam-engine  was  invented,  pre- 
senting, perhaps,  the  most  remarkable  illustration  of  the 
power  of  human  skill  and  perseverance  to  be  found  in 
the  whole  history  of  civilisation. 




THE  attempts  hitherto  made  to  invent  a  working  steam- 
engine,  it  will  be  observed,  had  not  been  attended  with 
much  success.  The  most  that  could  be  said  of  them  was, 
that,  by  demonstrating  the  impracticable,  they  were 
gradually  leading  other  experimenters  in  the  direction 
of  the  practicable.  Although  the  progress  made  seemed 
but  slow,  the  amount  of  net  result  was  by  no  means  in- 
considerable. Men  were  becoming  better  acquainted 
with  the  elastic  force  of  steam.  The  vacuum  produced 
by  its  condensation  in  a  closed  vessel,  and  the  con- 
sequent atmospheric  pressure,  had  been  illustrated  by 
repeated  experiments ;  and  many  separate  and  minor 
inventions,  which  afterwards  proved  of  great  value,  had 
been  made,  such  as  the  four-way  cock,  the  safety-valve, 
and  the  piston  moving  in  a  cylinder.  The  principle  of 
a  true  steam-engine  had  not  only  been  demonstrated, 
but  most  of  the  separate  parts  of  such  an  engine  had 
been  contrived  by  various  inventors.  It  seemed  as  if  all 
that  was  now  wanting  was  a  genius  of  more  than  ordi- 
nary power  to  combine  them  in  a  complete  and  effective 

To  Thomas  Savery  is  usually  accorded  the  merit  of 
having  constructed  the  first  actual  working  steam-engine. 
Little  is  known  of  his  early  history ;  and  various  sur- 
mises have  been  formed  as  to  his  origin  and  calling. 
Some  writers  have  described  him  as  the  captain  of  a  tin- 
mine  ;  others  as  a  naval  captain  ;  while  a  third  says  he 
was  an  immigrant  Frenchman.1  We  are,  however, 

Burn,  'History  of  Foreign  Protestant  Refugees,'  261. 




enabled  to  state,  from  information  communicated  by  his 
descendants,  that  he  was  the  scion  of  a  well-known 
Devonshire  family.  John  Savery,  of  Halberton,  or 
Harberton,  afterwards  of  Great  Totness,  was  a  gentleman 
of  considerable  property  in  the  reign  of  Henry  VIII. 
In  the  sixteenth  century  the  Saverys  became  connected 
by  marriage  with  the  Servingtons  of  Tavistock,  another 
old  county  family,  one  of  whom  served  as  sheriff  in  the 
reign  of  Edward  III.  In  1588,  Christopher  Savery, 
the  head  of  the  family,  resided  in  Totness  Castle,  of 
which  he  was  the  owner ;  and  for  a  period  of  nearly 
forty  years  the  town  was  represented  in  Parliament  by 
members  of  the  Savery  family.  Sir  Charles  served  as 
Sheriff  of  Devon  in  1619.  Though  the  Saverys  took 
the  side  of  the  Parliament,  in  resisting  the  despotic 
power  assumed  by  Charles  I.,  they  nevertheless  held  a 
moderate  course;  for  we  find  Colonel  Savery,  in  1643, 
attaching  his  name  to  the  famous  "  round  robin"  pre- 
sented to  Parliament.  Richard  Savery,  the  youngest 
son  of  the  Colonel,  was  father  of  Thomas  Savery,  the 
inventor  of  the  "  fire-engine."  Other  members  of  the 
Savery  family,  besides  Thomas,  were  distinguished  for 
their  prosecution  of  physical  science.  Thus  we  find 
from  the  family  MSS.,  Servington  Savery  correspond- 
ing with  Dr.  Jurin,  Secretary  to  the  Royal  Society, 
respecting  an  improvement  which  he  had  made  in  the 
barometer,  and  communicating  the  results  of  some  mag- 
netic experiments  of  a  novel  kind,  which  he  had  recently 

Thomas  Savery  was  born  at  Shilston,  near  Modbury, 
in  Devon,  about  the  year  1650.     Nothing  is  known  of 

1  In  a  letter,  dated  Shilston,  August 
9th,  1727,  he  writes:— "The  late  Mr, 
Thomas  Savery,  inventor  of  the  en- 
gines for  rowing,  and  raising  water  by 
fire,  was,  I  believe,  well  known  to 
several  of  the  Royal  Society,  perhaps 
to  the  President ;  but  as  I  am  a  per- 

fect stranger,  do  acquaint  you  that  his 
father  was  youngest  brother  to  my 
grandfather.  The  late  Servington 
Savery,  M.D.,  of  Marlborough,  \vas 
one  of  my  family,  viz.,  a  brother  t<> 
my  deceased  father." 




his  early  life,  beyond  that  he  was  educated  to  the  pro- 
fession of  a  military  engineer,  and  in  course  of  time  duly 
reached  the  rank  of  Trench-master.  The  corps  of  en- 
gineers was  not,  however,  regarded  as  an  essential 
part  of  the  military  force  until  the  year  1787,  when  the 
officers  ranked  with  those  of  the  Roval  Artillery.  The 


pursuit  of  his  profession,  as  well  as  his  natural  disposi- 
tion, led  Savery  to  the  study  of  mechanics,  and  he  he- 
came  well  accomplished  in  the  physical  knowledge  of  his 
time.  He  occupied  much  of  his  spare  time  in  mechanical 
experiments,  and  in  projecting  and  executing  contri- 
vances of  various  sorts.  One  of  his  early  works  was  a 




clock,  still  preserved  in  the  family,1  which  until  lately 
kept  very  good  time ;  and  when  last  repaired  by  a 
watchmaker  of  Modbury  was  pronounced  to  be  a  piece 
of  very  good  work,  of  a  peculiar  construction,  displaying 
'much  ingenuity. 

Another  of  Savery' s  early  contrivances  was  a  machine 
for  polishing  plate-glass,  for  which  he  obtained  a  patent. 
He  was  occupied  about  the  same  time  with  an  invention 
for  rowing  ships  in  calms  by  the  mechanical  apparatus 
subsequently  described  in  his  treatise,  entitled  '  Naviga- 
tion Improved.'  He  there  relates  how  it  troubled  his 
thoughts  and  racked  his  brains  to  find  out  this  invention, 
which  he  accomplished  after  many  experiments,  con- 
ducted "  with  great  charge."  He  naturally  set  much 
value  on  the  product  of  so  much  study  and  labour ;  and 
he  was  proportionately  vexed  on  finding  that  others 
regarded*  it  with  indifference.  He  professed  to  have 
had  "  promises  of  a  great  reward  from  the  Court,  if  the 
thing  would  answer  the  end  for  which  he  proposed  it ;" 
but  instead  of  a  reward,  Savery  received  only. contumely 
and  scorn.  He  attributed  his  want  of  success  to  the  ill- 
humour  of  the  then  Surveyor  of  the  Navy,  who  reported 
against  his  engine,  because,  said  he,  "  it's  the  nature  of 
some  men  to  decry  all  inventions  that  are  not  the  pro- 
duct of  their  own  brains."  He  only  asked  for  a  fair 
trial  of  his  paddle-boat,  believing  in  its  efficiency  and 
utility;  declaring , that  it  was  not  his  "  fondness  for  his 
own  bratt  that  made  him  think  so,"  but  the  favourable 
opinions  of  several  very  judicious  persons  in  town,  that 
encouraged  him  to  urge  his  invention  for  public 

The  invention  in  question  consisted  of  a  boat  mounted 
with  two  paddle-wheels,  one  on  each  side,  worked  by  a 
capstan  placed  in  the  centre  of  the  vessel.  The  annexed 

1  It  is  now  in  the  possession  of  Capt. 
Lowe,  of  the    26th  Regiment,  whose 

grand-aunt  was  a  Miss  Savery  of  Sliil- 





cut  will  show  the  nature  of  the  arrangement,  which 
probably  did  not  differ  much  from  the  scheme  of  Blasco 
Garay,  above  referred  to. 

Savery  says 
he  was  led 
to  make  the  \]  !, 
through  the 
difficulty  which 
had  been  expe- 
rienced in  get-  • 
ting  ships  in  HH 
motion  so  as 
to  place  them 
alongside  of  the 
enemy  in  sea- 
fights,  especially  during  calm  weather.  He"  thought 
that  if  our  fighting-ships  could  be  made  to  move  inde- 
pendent of  the  winds,  we  should  thereby  possess  an 
advantage  of  essential  consequence  to  the  public  service. 
"  The  gentlemen,"  said  he,  "  that  were  on  the  Brest  expe- 
dition with  my  Lord  Caermarthen  must  know  how  useful 
this  engine  would  have  been ;  for  had  they  had  them  there 
on  board  each  ship,  they  might  have  moved  themselves 
where  they  had  pleased."  He  also  urged  the  usefulness 
of  the  engine  for  packet-boats,  bomb- vessels,  and  sloops, 
and  especially  for  use  in  sea-fights,  in  bringing  off  dis- 
abled ships.  When  he  had  completed  his  invention,  he 
took  steps  to  bring  it  under  the  notice  of  Mr.  Secretary 
Trenchard.  The  plan  was  shown  to  the  King,  who 
thought  highly  of  it,  and  referred  Savery  to  the  Admi- 
ralty. When  he  went  there  he  was  told  that  he  should 
have  gone  to  the  Navy  Board.  At  the  Navy  Board  he 
was  told  that  certain  objections  to  the  adoption  of  his 
scheme  had  already  been  sent  to  the  Admiralty. 

Savery   having  ascertained  that  the    Surveyor  was 
himself  the  author  of  the  objections,  proceeded  to  discuss 




the  matter  with  him.  But  the  Surveyor  was  not  a  man 
to  be  argued  out  of  his  views  by  an  inventor ;  and  he 
shut  up  Savery  with  the  remark  :  "  What  have  inter- 
loping people,  that  have  no  concern  with  us,  to  do  to 
pretend  to  contrive  or  invent  things  for  us  ? "  Savery 
was  highly  indignant  at  the  official  snub,  and  published 
the  conversation  in  his  Treatise.  "  Though  one  has 
found  out,"  said  he,  "  an  improvement  as  great  to  shipping 
as  turning  to  windward  or  the  Compass,  unless  you  can 
sit  round  the  Green  Table  in  Crutched  Friars,  your  in- 
vention is  damned,  of  course ;"  and  the  testy  inventor 
concluded  :  "  All  I  have  now  to  add  is,  that  whoever  is 
angry  with  the  Truth  for  appearing  in  mean  language 
may  as  well  be  angry  with  an  honest  man  for  his  plain 
habit ;  for,  indeed,  it  is  as  common  for  Lyes  and  Non- 
sense to  be  disguised  by  a  jingle  of  words  as  for  a  Block- 
head to  be  hid  by  abundance  of  Peruke."1 

Notwithstanding  his  rebuff  by  the  Navy  Surveyor, 
Savery  proceeded  to  fit  up  a  small  yacht  with  his  engine, 
and  tried  an  experiment  with  it  on  the  Thames,  in  sight 
of  many  thousands  of  spectators.  The  experiment  was, 
in  his  opinion,  entirely  successful.  The  yacht,  manned 
by  eight  sailors  working  the  capstan,  passed  a  ketch 
with  all  its  sails  spread,  as  well  as  other  vessels.  "  All 
people,"  said  Savery,  "  seemed  to  like  the  demonstration 
of  the  use  of  my  engine,  the  public  newspapers  speaking 
very  largely  of  it,  yet  all  to  no  purpose."  Savery  had 
already  expended  200£.  in  his  experiments  on  the  paddle- 
wheel  boat,  and  was  not  disposed  to  go  any  further, 
now  that  Government  had  decided  not  to  take  up  the 
invention.  Indeed,  its  practical  utility  was  doubtful. 
The  power  of  the  wind  was,  after  all,  better  than  hand- 
labour  for  working  large  ships ;  and  it  continued  to 

1  *  Navigation  Improved ;  or  the  Art 
of  Rowing  Ships  of  all  rates  in  calms, 
with  a  more  easy,  swift  and  steady  mo- 
tion than  oars  can.  Also,  a  descrip- 
tion of  the  engine  that  performs  it ; 

and  the  Author's  answer  to  all  Mr. 
Drummer's  objections  that  have  been 

made   against  it.     By    Tho. 
Gent.     London,  1098.' 



maintain   its    superiority   until   the    steam-engine    was 
brought  to  perfection. 

It  is  curious  that  it  should  not  have  occurred  to  Savery, 
who  invented  both  a  paddle-wheel  boat  and  a  steam- 
engine,  to  combine  the  two  in  one  machine ;  but  he  was 
probably  sick  of  the  former  invention,  which  had  given 
him  so  much  vexation  and  annoyance,  and  gave  it  up 
in  disgust,  leaving  it  to  Papin,  who  saw  both  his  inven- 
tions at  work,  to  hit  upon  the  grand  idea  of  combining 
the  two  in  a  steam-vessel, — the  only  machine  capable  of 
effectually  and  satisfactorily  rowing  ships  in  a  calm,  or 
against  wind  and  tide. 

It  is  probable  that  Savery  was  led  to  enter  upon  his 
next  and  most  important  invention  by  the  circumstance 
of  his  having  been  brought  up  in  the  neighbourhood  of 
the  mining  districts,  and  being  well  aware  of  the  great 
difficulty  experienced  by  the  miners  in  keeping  their 
pits  clear  of  water,  to  enable  them  to  proceed  with 
their  underground  operations.  The  early  tin-mining 
of  Cornwall  was  for  the  most  part  what  was  called 
"  stream-work,"  being  confined  mainly  to  washing  and 
collecting  the  diluvial  deposits  of  the  ore.  Mines 
usually  grew  out  of  these  stream-works ;  the  ground 
was  laid  open  at  the  back  of  the  lodes,  and  the  ore  was 
dug  out  as  from  a  quarry.  Some  of  these  old  openings, 
called  "  coffins,"  are  still  to  be  met  with  in  different 
parts  of  Cornwall.  The  miners  did  not  venture  much 
below  the  surface,  for  fear  of  the  water,  by  which  they 
were  constantly  liable  to  be  drowned  out.  But  as  the 
upper  strata  became  exhausted,  they  were  tempted  to  go 
deeper  in  search  of  the  richer  ores.  Shafts  were  sunk 
to  the  lodes,  and  they  were  followed  underground. 
Then  it  was  that  the  difficulty  of  water  had  to  be  en- 
countered and  overcome ;  for  unless  it  could  be  got  rid 
of,  the  deeper  ores  of  Cornwall  were  as  so  much  buried 
treasure.  When  the  mines  were  of  no  great  depth,  it 
was  possible  to  bale  out  the  water  by  hand-buckets. 




But  this  expedient  was  soon  exhausted ;  and  the  power 
of  horses  was  then  employed  to  draw  the  buckets. 
Where  the  lodes  ran  along  a  hill-side,  it  was  possible,  by 
driving  an  adit  from  a  lower  point,  to  let  off  the  water 
by  natural  drainage.  But  this  was  not  often  found 
practicable,  and  in  most  cases  it  had  to  be  raised  directly 
from  the  shafts  by  artificial  methods.  As  the  quantity 
increased,  a  whim  or  gin  moving  on  a  perpendicular 
axis  was  employed  to  draw  the  water.1  An  improve- 
ment on  this  was  the  rack  and  chain  pump,  consisting 
of  an  endless  iron  chain  mounted  with  knobs  of  cloth 
stiffened  with  leather,  inclosed  in  a  wooden  pump  of 
from  six  to  eight  inches  bore,  the  lower  part  of  which 
rested  in  the  well  of  the  mine.  The  chain  was  turned 
round  by  a  wheel  two  or  three  feet  in  diameter,  usually 
worked  by  men,  and  the  knobs  with  which  it  was 
mounted  brought  up  a  stream  of  water  according  to  the 
dimensions  of  the  pump.  Another  method,  considered 
the  most  effectual  of  all,  was  known  as  "  the  water- 
wheel  and  bobs,"  consisting  of  a  powerful  pump,  or 
series  of  pumps,  worked  by  a  water-wheel.  But 
although  there  is  no  want  of  water  underground  in 
Cornwall,  and  no  want  of  rain  above  ground,  there  are 
few  or  no  great  water-courses  capable  of  driving 
machinery;  besides,  as  the  mines  are  for  the  most 
part  situated  on  high  ground,  it  will  be  obvious 
that  water-power  was  available  to  only  a  very  limited 
extent  for  this  purpose. 

It  is  also  worthy  of  notice  that  the  early  mining  of 
Cornwall  was  carried  on  by  men  of  small  capital,  prin- 
cipally by  working  men,  who  were  unable  to  expend 
any  large  amount  of  money  in  forming  artificial  reser- 
voirs, or  in  erecting  the  powerful  pumping  machinery 

1  Mr.  Davies  Gilbert  says  even  this 
method  was  comparatively  modern,  as 
he  remembered  a  carpenter  who  used 
to  boast  that  he  had  assisted  in  mak- 

ing the  first  whim  ever  seen  westward 
of  Hayle. — Davies,  *  Parochial  History 
of  Cornwall,'  London,  1838,  ii.  83. 


necessary  for  keeping  the  deeper  mines  clear  of 
water.  The  Cornish  miners,  like  the  Whitstable  oyster- 
dredgers,  worked  upon  the  principle  of  co-operation. 
This  doctrine,  now  taught  as  a  modern  one,  was  prac- 
tised by  them  almost  time  out  of  mind.  The  owner  of 
the  land  gave  the  use  of  his  land,  the  adventurers  gave 
their  money,  and  the  miners  their  labour ;  all  sharing  in 
the  proceeds  according  to  ancient  custom.  For  the  use 
of  his  land,  and  for  the  ore  taken  from  the  mine, 
the  lord  usually  took  a  sixth  part ;  but  in  consideration 
of  draining  the  mine,  and  in  order  to  encourage  the 
adventure,  he  was  often  content  with  an  eighth,  or  it 
might  be  only  a  tenth  part  of  the  produce.  The  miners, 
on  their  part,  agreed  to  divide  in  the  proportions  in 
which  they  took  part  in  the  work.  Their  shares  of  the 
ore  raised  were  measured  by  barrows,  and  parcelled 
into  heaps ;  "  and  it  is  surprising,"  says  Borlase,  "  to 
see  how  ready  and  exact  the  reckoners  are  in  dividing, 
though  oftentimes  they  can  neither  write  nor  read. 
The  parcels  being  laid  forth,  lots  are  cast,  and  then 
every  parcel  has  a  distinct  mark  laid  on  it  with  one, 
two,  or  three  stones,  and  sometimes  a  bit  of  stick  or  turf 
stuck  up  in  the  middle  or  side  of  the  pile;  and  when 
these  marks  are  laid  on,  the  parcels  may  continue  there 
half  a  year  or  more  unmolested."  * 

These  were,  however,  the  early  and  primitive  days  of 
mining,  when  the  operations  were  carried  on  com- 
paratively near  the  surface,  and  the  capital  invested  in 
pumping-machinery  was  comparatively  small  in  amount. 
As  the  miners  went  deeper  and  deeper  into  the  ground, 
and  the  richer  lodes  were  struck  and  followed,  the  cha- 
racter of  mining  became  considerably  changed.  Larger 
capitals  were  required  to  sink  the  shafts  and  keep  them 
clear  of  water  until  the  ore  was  reached ;  and  a  new 
class  of  men,  outside  the  mining  districts,  was  induced 

Borlase,  'Natural  History  of  Cornwall,'  175-6. 




to  venture  their  money  in  the  mines  as  a  speculation. 
Yet  the  system  above  described,  though  greatly  modified 
by  altered  circumstances,  continues  to  this  day ;  and  the 
mining  of  Cornwall  continues  to  be  carried  on  mainly 
upon  the  co-operative  or  joint-stock  system. 

When  the  surface  lodes  became  exhausted,  the  necessity 
of  employing  some  more  efficient  method  of  pumping  the 
water  became  more  and  more  urgent.  In  one  pit  after 
another  the  miners  were  being  drowned  out,  and  the 
operations  of  an  important  branch  of  national  industry 
were  in  danger  of  being  brought  to  a  complete  standstill. 
It  was  under  these  circumstances  that  Captain  Savery 
turned  his  attention  to  the  contrivance  of  a  more 
powerful  engine  for  the  raising  of  water ;  and  after 
various  experiments,  he  became  persuaded  that  the 
most  effective  agency  for  the  purpose  was  the  power  of 
steam.  It  is  very  probable  that  he  was  aware  of  the 
attempts  that  had  been  previously  made  in  the  same 
direction,  and  he  may  have  gathered  many  useful  and 
suggestive  hints  from  the  Marquis  of  Worcester's 
4  Century ; '  but  as  that  book  contained  no  plans  nor 
precise  definitions  of  the  methods  by  which  the  Marquis 
had  accomplished  his  objects,  it  could  have  helped  him 
but  little  towards  the  contrivance  of  a  practicable 
working  engine.1 

How  Savery  was  led  to  the  study  of  the  power  of 
steam  has  been  differently  stated.  Desaguliers  says  his 
own  account  was  this, — that  having  drunk  a  flask  of 
Florence  at  a  tavern,  and  thrown  the  empty  flask  on  the 

1  The  absurd  story  is  told  by  Dr. 
Desaguliers  (*  Experimental  Philo- 
sophy,' ii.  465)  that  Savery,  having 
read  the  Marquis's  book,  "was  the 
first  to  put  in  practice  the  raising  of 
water  by  fire,  which  he  proposed  for 
the  draining  of  mines;"  and  having 
copied  the  Marquis's  engine,  "the 
better  to  conceal  the  matter,  bought 
up  all  the  Marquis  of  Worcester's 

books  that  he  could  purchase  in  Pater- 
noster-row and  elsewhere,  and  burned 
'em  in  the  presence  of  the  gentleman, 
his  friend,  who  told  me  this!"  It 
need  scarcely  be  said  that  it  was  very 
unlikely  that  Savery  should  have  at- 
tempted thus  to  conceal  an  invention 
recorded  in  a  printed  book  which  had 
been  in  circulation  for  more  than  forty 


fire,  he  called  for  a  basin  of  water  to  wash  his  hands, 
and  perceiving  that  the  little  wine  left  in  the  flask  had 
changed  to  steam,  he  took  the  vessel  by  the  neck  and 
plunged  its  mouth  into  the  water  in  the  basin,  when, 
the  steam  being  condensed,  the  water  was  immediately 
driven  up  into  the  flask  by  the  pressure  of  the  atmo- 
sphere. Desaguliers  disbelieved  this  account,  but  admits 
that  Savery  made  many  experiments  upon  the  powers 
of  steam,  and  eventually  succeeded  in  making  several 
engines  "  which  raised  water  very  well."  Switzer,  who 
was  on  intimate  terms  with  Savery,  gives  another 
account.  He  says  the  first  hint  from  which  he  took  the 
engine  was  from  a  tobacco-pipe,  which  he  immersed  in 
water  to  wash  or  cool  it ;  when  he  discovered  by  the 
rarefaction  of  the  air  in  the  tube  by  the  heat  or  steam, 
and  the  gravitation  or  pressure  of  the  exterior  air  on  the 
condensation  of  the  latter,  that  the  water  was  made  to 
spring  through  the  tube  of  the  pipe  in  a  most  surprising 
manner;1  and  that  this  phenomenon  induced  him  to 
search  for  the  rationale,  and  to  prosecute  a  series  of  expe- 
riments which  issued  in  the  invention  of  his  fire-engine. 

However  Savery  may  have  obtained  his  first  idea  of 
the  expansion  and  condensation  of  steam,  and  of  atmos- 
pheric pressure,  it  is  certain  that  the  subject  occupied 
his  attention  for  many  years.  He  had  the  usual  diffi- 
culties to  encounter  in  dealing  with  a  wholly  new  and 
untried  power,  in  contriving  the  novel  mechanism 
through  wrhich  it  was  to  work,  and  of  getting  his  con- 
trivances executed  by  the  hands  of  mechanics  necessarily 
unaccustomed  to  such  kind  of  work.  "  Though  I  was 
obliged,"  he  says,  "  to  encounter  the  oddest  and  almost 
insuperable  difficulties,  I  spared  neither  time,  pains,  nor 
money,  till  I  had  absolutely  conquered  them." 

Having  sufficiently  matured  his  design,  he  had  a 
model  of  his  new  "  Fire  Engine,"  as  he  termed  it,  made 

Switzer,  '  System  of  Hydrostaticks  and  Hydraulic ks,'  London,  1729. 





for  exhibition  before  the  King  at  Hampton  Court  in 
1698.  William  III.,  who  was  himself  of  a  mechanical 
turn,  was  highly  pleased  with  the  ingenuity  displayed 
in  Savery's  engine,  as  well  as  with  its  efficient  action, 
and  he  permitted  the  inventor  to  dedicate  to  him  '  The 
Miner's  Friend,'  containing  the  first  published  descrip- 
tion of  his  invention.  The  King  also  promoted  Savery's 
application  for  a  Patent,  which  was  secured  in  July, 
1698,1  and  an  Act  confirming  it  was  passed  in  the 
following  year. 

Savery's  next  step  was  to  bring  his  invention  under 
the  notice  of  the  Royal  Society,  whose  opinion  on  all 
matters  of  science  was  listened  to  with  profound  respect. 
He  accordingly  exhibited  his  model  at  a  meeting  held 
on  the  14th  of  June,  1699,  and  it  is  recorded  in  the 
minutes  of  that  date,  that  "  Mr.  Savery  entertained  the 
Society  with  showing  his  engine  to  raise  water  by 
the  force  of  fire.  He  was  thanked  for  showing  the 
experiment,  which  succeeded  according  to  expectation, 
and  was  approved  of."  The  inventor  presented  the 
Society  with  a  drawing  of  his  engine,  accompanied  by  a 
description,  which  was  printed  in  the  'Transactions.'2 

Savery  next  endeavoured  to  bring  his  invention  into 
practical  use,  but  this  was  a  matter  of  much  greater 
difficulty.  So  many  schemes  with  a  like  object  had 
been  brought  out  and  failed,  that  the  mining  interest 
came  to  regard  new  projects  with  increasing  suspicion. 
To  persuade  them  that  he  was  no  mere  projector,  but 
the  inventor  of  a  practicable  working  engine,  Savery 
wrote  and  published  his  '  Miner's  Friend.'  "  I  am  not 
very  fond,"  he  there  said,  "  of  lying  under  the  scandal  of 

1  The  patent  is  dated  the  25th  July, 
1698,  and  is  entitled,  "A  grant  to 
Thomas  Savery,  Gentl.,  of  the  sole 
exercise  of  a  new  invencon,  by  him 
invented,  for  raiseing  of  water,  and 
occasioning  mocon  to  all  sort  of  mill 
works,  by  the  impellant  force  of  fire, 
which  will  be  of  great  use  for  draining 

mines,  serving  towns  with  water,  and 
for  the  working  of  all  sorts  of  mills 
when  they  have  not  the  benefit  of 
water  nor  constant  winds  ;  to  hold  for 
14  years ;  with  usual  clauses." 

2  '  Philosophical  Transactions,'  No. 
252.     Weld's  '  Royal  Society,'  i.  357. 


a  bare  projector,  and  therefore  present  you  here  with  a 
draught  of  my  machine,  and  lay  before  you  the  uses 
of  it,  and  leave  it  to  your  consideration  whether  it  be 
worth  your  while  to  make  use  of  it  or  no." 

Inventors  before  Savery's  time  were  wont  to  make  a 
great  mystery  of  their  inventions ;  but  he  proclaimed 
that  there  was  no  mystery  whatever  about  his  machine, 
and  he  believed  that  the  more  clearly  it  was  understood, 
the  better  it  would  be  appreciated.  He  acknowledged 
that  there  had  been  many  pretenders  to  new  inventions 
of  the  same  sort,  who  had  excited  hopes  which  had 
never  been  fulfilled ;  but  this  invention  which  he  had 
made  was  a  thing  the  uses  of  which  were  capable  of 
actual  demonstration.  He  urged  that  the  old  methods 
of  raising  water  could  not  be  carried  further  ;  and  that 
an  entirely  new  power  was  needed  to  enable  the  miner  to 
prosecute  his  underground  labours.  "  I  fear,"  said  he, 
"  that  whoever  by  the  old  causes  of  motion  pretends  to  im- 
provements within  the  last  century  does  betray  his  know- 
ledge and  judgment.  For  more  than  a  hundred  years 
since,  men  and  horses  would  raise  by  engines  then  made 
as  much  water  as  they  have  ever  done  since,  or  I  believe 
ever  will,  or,  according  to  the  law  of  nature,  ever  can 
do.  And,  though  my  thoughts  have  been  long  employed 
about  water-works,  I  should  never  have  pretended  to 
any  invention  of  that  kind,  had  I  not  happily  found  out 
this  new,  but  yet  a  much  stronger  and  cheaper  force  or 
cause  of  motion  than  any  before  made  use  of."  He 
proceeded  to  show  how  easy  it  was  to  work  his  engine, 
—boys  of  thirteen,  or  fourteen  years  being  able  to 
attend  and  work  it  to  perfection  after  a  few  days' 
teaching, — and  how  he  had  at  length,  after  great 
difficulty,  instructed  handicraft  artificers  to  construct 
the  engine  according  to  his  design,  so  that,  after  much 
experience,  said  he,  "they  are  become  such  masters 
of  the  thing  that  they  oblige  themselves  to  deliver 
what  engines  they  make  exactly  tight  and  fit  for  service, 

E  2 




and  as  such  I  dare  warrant  them  to  anybody  that  has 

occasion  for  them."  ! 

Savery's  engine,  as  described  by  him- 
self, consisted  of  a  series  of  boilers,  con- 
densing vessels,  and  tubes,  the  action  of 
which  will  be  readily  understood  with 
the  help  of  the  annexed  drawing.2 

1  '  The  Miner's  Friend,  or  an  Engine  to  Raise  Water 
by  Fire,  described,  and  of  the  manner  of  fixing  it  in 
Mines,  with  an  account  of  the  several  uses  it  is  applicable 
unto ;  and  an  answer  to  the  objections 
made  against  it.    By  Tho.  Savery,  Gent.' 
London,  1702. 

2  Two  boilers,  a  large,  A,  A,  and  a 
smaller,  B,  were  fixed  in  a  furnace,  and 
connected  together  at  the  top  by  a 
pipe,  c.  The  larger  boiler  was  filled 
two-thirds  full,  and  the  smaller  quite 
full  of  water.  When  that  in  the  larger 
one  was  raised  to  the  boiling-point,  the 
handle  of  the  regulator,  D,  was  thrust 
back  as  far  as  it  would  go,  by  which 
the  steam  forced  itself  through  the  pipe 
connected  with  the  vessel  E,  expelling 
the  air  it  contained  through  the  clack 
at  F.  The  handle  of  the  regulator  being 
then  drawn  towards  you,  the  communi- 
cation between  the  boiler  and  the  vessel, 
E,  was  closed,  and  that  between  the 
boiler  and  the  second  vessel,  G,  was 
opened,  which  latter  was  also  filled  with 
steam,  the  air  being  in  like  manner  dis- 
charged through  the  clack,  H.  Cold  water  was  then  poured  from 
the  water-cock,  T,  on  to  the  vessel  E,  by  which  the  steam  was 
suddenly  condensed,  and  a  vacuum  being  thereby  caused,  the  water 
to  be  raised  was  drawn  up  through  the  sucking-pipe,  J,  its  return 
being  prevented  by  a  clack  or  valve  at  K.  The  handle  of  the  regu- 
lator D  being  again  thrust  back,  the  steam  was  again  admitted, 
and  pressing  upon  the  surface  of  the  water  in  E,  forced  it  out  at 
the  bottom  of  the  vessel  and  up  through  the  pipe  L,  from  which 
it  was  driven  into  the  open  air.  The  handle  of  the  regulator  was 
then  reversed,  on  which  the  steam  was  again  admitted  to  G,  and 
the  water  in  like  manner  expelled  from  it,  while  E,  being  again 
dashed  with  cold  water,  was  refilling  from  below.  Then  the  cold 
water  was  turned  upon  G,  and  thus  alternate  filling  and  forcing- 
went  on,  and  a  continuous  stream  of  cold  water  kept  flowing 
from  the  upper  opening.  The  large  boiler  was  replenished  with 
water  by  shutting  off  the  connection  of  the  small  boiler  with  the 
cold  water  pipe,  M,  which  supplied  it  from  above,  on  which  the 
steam  contained  in  the  latter  forced  the  water  through  the  con- 
necting pipe,  c,  into  the  large  boiler,  and  kept  it  running  in  a  continuous 
stream  until  the  surface  of  the  water  in  the  smaller  boiler  was  depressed 


Its  principal  features  were  two  large  cylindrical 
vessels,  which  were  alternately  filled  with  steam  from 
an  adjoining  boiler  and  with  cold  water  from  the 
well  or  mine  out  of  which  the  water  had  to  be  raised. 
When  either  of  the  hollow  vessels  was  filled  with  steam, 
and  then  suddenly  cooled  by  a  dash  of  cold  water,  a 
vacuum,  was  thereby  created,  and,  the  vessel  being 
closed  at  the  top  and  open  at  the  bottom,  the  water  was 
at  once  forced  up  into  it  from  the  well  by  the  pressure 
of  the  atmosphere.  The  steam,  being  then  let  into  the 
vessel  from  the  top,  pressed  upon  the  surface  of  the 
water,  and  forced  it  out  at  the  bottom  by  another  pipe 
(its  return  into  the  well  being  prevented  by  a  clack), 
and  so  up  the  perpendicular  pipe  which  opened  into 
the  outer  air.  The  second  vessel  being  treated  in  the 
same  manner,  the  same  result  followed  ;  and  thus,  by 
alternate  filling  and  forcing,  a  continuous  stream  of 
water  was  poured  out  from  the  upper  opening.  The 
whole  of  the  labour  required  to  work  the  engine  was 
capable  of  being  performed  by  a  single  man,  or  even 
by  a  boy,. after  very  little  teaching. 

Although  Savery's  plans  and  descriptions  of  the 
arrangement  and  working  of  his  engines  are  clear  and 
explicit,  he  does  not  give  any  information  as  to  their 
proportions,  beyond  stating  that  an  engine  employed  in 
raising  a  column  of  water  34  inches  in  diameter  60  feet 
high,  requires  a  fireplace  20  inches  deep.  Speaking  of 
their  performances,  he  says,  "I  have  known,  in  Corn- 
wall, a  work  with  three  lifts  of  about  18  feet  each,  lift 
and  carry  a  3i-inch  bore,  that  cost  426-.  a  day  (reckoning 
24  a  day)  for  labour,  besides  the  wear  and  tear  of  en- 
gines, each  pump  having  four  men  working  eight  hours, 
at  I4d.  a  man,  and  the  men  obliged  to  rest  at  least  a 
third  part  of  that  time."  He  pointed  out  that  at  least 
one-third  part,  of  the  then  cost  of  raising  water  might 

below  the  opening  of  the  connecting  pipe,  which  was  indicated  by  the  noise 
of  the  clack,  when  it  was  refilled  from  the  cold  water  pipe,  M,  as  before. 


be  saved  by  the  adoption  of  his  invention,  which  on 
many  mines  would  amount  to  "a  brave  estate "  in  the 
course  of  a  year.  In  estimating  the  power  of  his 
engine,  Savery  was  accustomed  to  compare  it  with  the 
quantity  of  work  that  horses  could  perform,  and  hence 
he  introduced  the  term  "  horse  power,"  which  is  still  in 

Although,  in  the  treatise  referred  to,  Savery  describes 
an  engine  with  two  furnaces,  the  drawing  which  he 
presented  to  the  Royal  Society  showed  only  one ;  and 
it  appears  that  in  another  of  his  designs  he  showed  only 
one  cylindrical  vessel  instead  of  two.  In  order  to  exhibit 
the  working  of  his  engine  on  a  larger  scale  than  in  the 
model,  he  proceeded  to  erect  one  in  a  potter's  house  at 
Lambeth,  where,  Switzer  says,  though  it  was  a  small 
engine,  the  water  struck  up  the  tiles  and  forced  its  way 
through  the  roof  in  a  manner  that  surprised  all  the  spec- 
tators. Switzer  mentions  other  engines  erected  after 
Slavery's  designs  for  the  raising  of  water  at  Camden 
House  and  Sion  House,  which  proved  quite  successful. 
The  former,  he  says,  was  the  plainest  and  best  pro- 
portioned engine  he  had  seen :  it  had  only  a  single 
condensing  vessel ;  and  "  though  but  a  small  one  in 
comparison  with  many  others  of  the  kind  that  are  made 
for  coal-works,  it  is  sufficient  for  any  reasonable  family, 
and  other  uses  required  for  it  in  watering  middling 
gardens." ]  Four  receivers  full  of  water,  or  equal  to 
52  gallons,  were  raised  every  minute,  or  3110  gallons 
in  the  hour ;  whilst,  in  the  case  of  the  larger  engines 
with  double  receivers,  6240  gallons  an  hour  might  easily 
be  raised.  The  cost  of  the  smaller  engine  was  about 
fifty  pounds,  and  the  consumption  of  coal  about  a  bushel 
in  the  twenty-four  hours,  supposing  it  was  kept  con- 
stantly at  work  during  that  time. 

The   uses   to   which  Savery  proposed   to  apply  his 

1   Switzer,  « Introduction  to  a  General  System  of  Hydrostaticks  and  Hydrsiu- 
licks,'  237. 


engine  were  various.  One  was  to  pump  water  into  a 
reservoir,  from  which,  by  falling  on  a  water-wheel,  it 
might  produce  a  continuous  rotary  motion.  Another  was 
to  raise  water  into  cisterns  for  the  supply  of  gentlemen's 
houses,  and  for  use  in  fountains  and  as  an  extinguisher 
in  case  of  fire.  A  third  was  to  raise  water  for  the 
supply  of  towns,  and  a  fourth  to  drain  fens  and  marsh 
lands.  But  the  most  important,  in  the  inventor's  esti- 
mation, was  its  employment  in  clearing  drowned  mines 
and  coal-pits  of  water.  He  showed  how  water  might 
be  raised  from  deep  mines  by  using  several  engines, 
placed  at  different  depths,  one  over  the  other.  Thus  by 
three  lifts,  each  of  80  feet,  water  might  be  raised  from 
a  mine  about  240  feet — then  considered  a  very  great 
depth  From  Savery's  own  account,  it  is  evident  that 
several  of  his  engines  were  erected  in  Cornwall ;  and  it 
is  said  that  the  first  was  tried  at  Huel  Yor,  or  "  The 
Great  Work  in  Breage,"  a  few  miles  from  Helstone, 
then  considered  the  richest  tin  mine  in  the  countv. 

HDEL  VOE,  WITH   REGAINS  OF  THE  OLD  WORKS.     [  By  R.  P    Leitrh.] 

The  engine  was  found  to  be  an  improvement  on  the 
methods  formerly  employed  for  draining  the  mine,  and 
sent  the  miners  to  considerably  greater  depths.  But 
the  great  pressure  of  steam  required  to  force  up  a  high 


column  of  water  was  such  as  to  strain  to  the  utmost  the 
imperfect  boilers  and  receivers  of  those  early  days ;  and 
the  frequent  explosions  which  attended  its  use  eventually 
led  to  its  discontinuance  in  favour  of  the  superior  engine 
of  Newcomen,  which  was  shortly  after  invented. 

Savery  also  endeavoured  to  introduce  his  engine  in 
the  coal-mining  districts,  but  without  success,  and  for  the 
same  reason.  The  demand  for  coal  in  connection  with 
the  iron  manufacture  having  greatly  increased  in  the 
county  of  Stafford,  and  the  coal  which  lay  nearest 
the  surface  having  been  for  the  most  part  "  won,"  the 
mining  interest  became  very  desirous  of  obtaining  some 
more  efficient  means  of  clearing  the  pits  of  water,  in 
order  to  send  the  miners  deeper  into  the  ground.  Wind- 
lass and  buckets,  wind-mills,  horse-gins,  rack-and-chain 
pumps,  adits,  and  all  sorts  of  contrivances  had  been  tried, 
and  the  limit  of  their  powers  had  been  reached.  The 
pits  were  fast  becoming  drowned  out,  and  the  ironmasters 
began  to  fear  lest  their  manufacture  should  become  lost 
through  want  of  fuel.  Under  these  circumstances  they 
were  ready  to  hail  the  invention  of  Captain  Savery, 
which  promised  to  relieve  them  of  their  difficulty.  He 
was  accordingly  invited  to  erect  one  of  his  engines  over 
a  coal-mine  at  the  Broadwaters,  near' Wednesbury.  The 
influx  of  water,  however,  proved  too  much  for  the 
engine  ;  the  springs  were  so  many  and  so  strong,  that 
all  the  means  which  Savery  could  employ  failed  to 
clear  the  mine  of  water.  To  increase  the  forcing 
power  he  increased  the  pressure  of  steam ;  but  neither 
boiler  nor  receiver  could  endure  it,  and  the  steam  "  tore 
the  engine  to  pieces ;  so  that,  after  much  time,  labour, 
and  expense,  Mr.  Savery  gave  up  the  undertaking,  and 
the  engine  was  laid  aside  as  useless."  l 

He  was  no  more  successful  with  the  engine  which 
he  erected  at  York-buildings  to  pump  water  from  the 

Dr.  Wilkes  in  '  Shaw's  History  of  Staffordshire,'  i.  85,  119. 



Thames  for  the  supply  of  the  western  parts  of  London. 
Bradley  says  that  to  increase  its  power  he  doubled  every 
part,  but  "  it  was  liable  to  so  many  disorders,  if  a  single 
mistake  happened  in  the  working  of  it,  that  at  length  it 
was  looked  upon  as  a  useless  piece  of  work,  and  re- 
jected."1 Savery's  later  engines  thus  lost  him  much  of 
the  credit  which  he  had  gained  by  those  of  an  earlier 
and  simpler  construction.  It  became  clear  that  their 
application  was  very  limited.  They  involved  much 
waste  of  fuel  through  the  condensation  of  the  hot  steam 
pressing  upon  the  surface  of  the  cold  water,  previous 
to  the  expulsion  of  the  latter  from  the  vessel ;  and 
eventually  their  use  was  confined  to  the  pumping  of 
water  for  fountains  and  the  supply  of  gentlemen's  houses, 
and  in  some  cases  to  the  raising  of  water  for  the  purpose 
of  working  an  overshot  water-wheel.  Various  attempts 
were  made  to  improve  the  engine  by  Bradley,  by  Papin, 
by  Desaguliers,  and  others ;  but  no  great  advance  was 
made  in  its  construction  and  method  of  working  until  it 
was  taken  in  hand  by  Newcomen  and  Galley,  whose 
conjoint  invention  marks  an  important  epoch  in  the 
history  of  the  steam-engine. 

Not  much  is  known  of  the  later  years  of  Savery's  life. 
We  find  him  a  Captain  of  Military  Engineers  in  1702  ; 2 
and  in  1705,  with  the  view  of  advancing  knowledge  in 
his  special  branch  of  military  science,  he  gave  to  the 
world  a  translation,  in  folio,  of  Cohorn's  celebrated  work 
on  fortification.  The  book  was  dedicated  to  Prince 
George  of  Denmark,  to  whom  he  was  indebted,  in  the 
same  year,  for  his  appointment  to  the  office  of  Treasurer 
of  the  Hospital  for  Sick  and  Wounded  Seamen.  Various 
letters  and  documents  are  still  to  be  found  in  the  Trans- 

1  Bradley,    '  Discourses    on    Earth 
and  Water,  &c.'     Westminster,  1727. 

2  We   are   informed    by   Quarter- 
master Conolly,  11.  E.,  who  has  given 
much  attention  to  the  early  history  of 
the  Royal  Engineers,  that  the  book 

of  Warrants  and  Appointments,  anno 
1712,  No.  172J,  in  the  Tower  Kecord- 
room,  contains  the  following  memo- 
randum in  pencil  on  the  inside  cover  : 
— [Thomas]  "  Savery,  Engineer  officer, 



CHAP.  111. 

port  Office,  Somerset  House,  addressed  to  him  in  that 
capacity.1  In  1714  he  was  further  indebted  to  Prince 
George  for  the  appointment  of  Surveyor  to  the  Water- 
works at  Hampton  Court ;  hut  he  did  not  live  to  enjoy 
it,  as  he  died  in  the  course  of  the  following  year.  He 
is  said  to  have  accumulated  considerable  property, 
which  he  bequeathed  to  his  wife,  together  with  all 
interest  in  his  inventions.  His  will  was  executed  on 
the  day  of  his  death,  the  15th  of  May,  1715,  and  was 
proved  four  days  after  in  the  Prerogative  Court  of  Can- 
terbury. He  there  described  himself  as  "of  the  parish 
of  Saint  Margaret,  at  Westminster,  Esquire."  His 
widow  herself  died  before  all  his  effects  were  adminis- 
tered. There  was  a  considerable  amount  of  unclaimed 
stock,  which  the  Savery  family  were  prevented  from 
claiming,  as  it  had  passed  to  the  widow ;  and  it  has 
since  been  transferred  to  the  credit  of  the  National 

1  A  pamphlet  published  in  1712, 
entitled  'An  Impartial  Inquiry  into 
the  Management  of  the  War  in 
Spain,'  contains  the  following  re- 
ference to  Savery : — "  Sums  allowed 

by  Parliament  for  carrying  on  the 
.war  in  Spain  .  .  .  for  the  year  1710. 
To  Thomas  Savery,  Esq.,  for  Thomas 
Gale,  surgeon,  for  caro  of  disabled 
soldiers,  306?.  6s.  4d" 




THE  invention  of  the  steam-engine  had  advanced  thus 
far  with  halting  steps.  A  new  power  had  been  dis- 
covered, but  it  was  so  dangerous  and  unmanageable 
that  it  was  still  doubtful  whether  it  could  be  applied  to 
any  useful  purpose.  What  was  still  wanting  was  an 
engine  strong  enough  to  resist  the  internal  pressure  of 
highly-heated  steam,  and  so  constructed  as  to  work  safely, 
continuously,  and  economically.  Many  attempts  had 
been  made  to  contrive  such  a  machine  ;  but,  as  we  have 
shown,  the  results  were  comparatively  barren.  Savery's 
small  engine  could  raise  water  in  moderate  quantities  to 
limited  heights ;  but  the  pumping  of  deep  mines  was 
beyond  its  power.  It  could  force  water  to  a  height  of 
about  sixteen  fathoms ;  but  as  the  depth  of  mines  at 
that  time  was  from  fifty  to  a  hundred  yards,  it  was 
obviously  incompetent  for  their  drainage.  It  is  true, 
Savery  proposed  to  overcome  the  difficulty  by  erecting 
a  series  of  engines,  placed  one  over  another  in  the  shaft 
of  the  mine ;  but  the  expense  of  their  attendants,  the 
great  consumption  of  fuel,  the  cost  of  w^ear  and  tear, 
the  constant  danger  of  explosion,  and  the  risk  of  the 
works  being  stopped  by  any  one  of  the  engines  becoming 
temporarily  deranged,  rendered  it  clear  that  the  use  of 
liis  engine  for  ordinary  mining  purposes  was  altogether 

Such  was  the  state  of  affairs  when  Thomas  New- 
comen  of  Dartmouth  took  up  the  subject.  Compara- 
tively little  is  known  of  the  personal  history  of  this 
ingenious  man.  Mechanical  inventors  excited  little 



NEWCOMEN'S   HOUSE,   DARTMOUTH.     [By  K.   1>.   LeiicL  ]  1 

notice  in  those  days ;  they  were  looked  upon  as  schemers, 
and  oftener  regarded  as  objects  of  suspicion  than  of 
respect.  Thomas  Newcomen  was  by  trade  an  iron- 
monger and  a  blacksmith.  The  house  in  which  he  lived 
and  worked  stood,  until  quite  recently,  in  Lower  Street, 
Dartmouth.  Like  many  of  the  ancient  timber  houses 
of  that  quaint  old  town,  it  was  a  building  of  singularly 
picturesque  appearance.  Lower  Street  is  very  narrow  ; 
the  houses  in  it  are  tall  and  irregular,  with  overhanging 
peaked  gable-ends.  A  few  years  since,  Newccmen's 
house  began  to  show  indications  of  decay ;  the  timber 
supports  were  fast  failing ;  and  for  safety's  sake  it  was 
determined  to  pull  it  to  the  ground. 

1  Newcomen's  house  occupies  the  centre  of  the  above  engraving — the  house 
with  the  peaked  gable-end  supported  by  timbers. 




The  Newcomen  family  have  long  since  become  extinct 
in  Dartmouth.  They  are  said  to  have  left  the  place 
long  ago,  and  gone  northward ;  but  we  have  been 
unable  to  trace  them.  The  Newcomens  appear  to  have 
occupied  a  respectable  position  in  Dartmouth  down  to 
about  the  middle  of  the  last  century.  Their  burying- 
place  was  in  the  north-side  chapel  of  the  fine  old  parish 
church  of  the  town,  where  several  tablets  are  erected  to 
their  memory.  Amongst  others,  there  is  one  to  William 
Newcomin,  Attorney-at-Law,  who  died  the  24th  of 
August,  1745,  aged  57,  supposed  to  have  been  a  brother, 
and  another  of  the  same  name,  who  died  in  1787,  aged 
65,  supposed  to  have  been  a  son  of  the  ironmonger. 

Thomas  Newcomen  was  a  man  of  strong  religious 
feelings,  and  from  an  early  period  of  his  life  occupied 
his  leisure  in  voluntary  religious  teaching.  He  belonged 
to  the  sect  of  Baptists ;  and  the  place  was  standing  until 
recently  in  which  he  regularly  preached.  When  he 
afterwards  went  into  distant  parts  of  the  country  on 
engine  business,  he  continued  to  devote  his  Sundays 
to  the  same  work.  How  he  first  came  to  study  the 
subject  of  steam  is  not  known.  Mr.  Holdsworth  says 
a  story  was  current  in  Dartmouth  in  his  younger  days, 
and  generally  believed,  that  Newcomen  conceived  the 
idea  of  the  motive  power  to  be  obtained  from  steam  by 
watching  the  tea-kettle,  the  lid  of  which  would  fre- 
quently rise  and  fall  when  boiling  ;  and,  reasoning  upon 
this  fact,  he  contrived,  by  filling  a  cylinder  with  steam, 
to  raise  the  piston,  and  by  immediately  injecting  some 
cold  water,  to  create  a  vacuum,  which  allowed  the 
weight  of  the  atmosphere  to  press  the  piston  down,  and 
so  give  motion  to  a  pump  by  means  of  a  beam  and  rods.1 

It  is  probable  that  Newcomen  was  wTell  aware  of  the 
experiments  of  Savery  on  steam  while  the  latter  was 
living  at  Modbury,  about  fifteen  miles  distant.  It 

1  Pamphlet  on  'Dartmouth:  the 
advantages  of  its  Harbour  as  a  Station 
for  Foreign  Mail  Packets,  and  a  Short 

Notice  of  its  Ancient  and  Present 
Condition.'  By  A.  H.  Holdsworth. 
London,  1841. 


will  be  remembered  that  Savery  was  greatly  hampered 
in  his  earlier  contrivances  by  the  want  of  skilled 
workmen ;  and  as  Newcomen  had  the  reputation  of 
being  one  of  the  cleverest  blacksmiths  in  the  county,  it 
is  supposed  that  he  was  employed  to  make  some  of  the 
more  intricate  parts  of  Savery's  engine.  At  all  events, 
he  could  scarcely  fail  to  hear  from  the  men  of  his  trade 
in  the  neighbourhood,  what  his  speculative  neighbour  at 
Modbury  was  trying  to  compass  in  the  invention  of  an 
engine  for  the  purpose  of  raising  water  by  fire.  He 
was  certainly  occupied  in  studying  the  subject  about  the 
same  time  as  Savery  ;  and  Switzer  says  he  was  well 
informed  that  "  Mr.  Newcomen  was  as  early  in  his  in- 
vention as  Mr.  Savery  was  in  his,  only  the  latter  being 
nearer  the  Court,  had  obtained  the  patent  before  the 
other  knew  it ;  on  which  account  Mr.  Newcomen  was 
glad  to  come  in  as  a  partner  to  it."1 

Another  account2  states  that  a  draft  of  Savery's  engine 
having  come  under  Newcomen's  notice,  he  proceeded  to 
make  a  model  of  it,  which  he  fixed  in  his  garden,  and 
soon  found  out  its  imperfections.  He  entered  into  a  cor- 
respondence on  the  subject  with  the  learned  and  inge- 
nious Dr.  Hooke,  then  Secretary  to  the  Eoyal  Society, 
a  man  of  remarkable  ingenuity,  and  of  great  mechanical 
sagacity  and  insight.  Newcomen  had  heard  or  read  of 
Papin's  proposed  method  of  transmitting  motive  power 
to  a  distance  by  creating  a  vacuum  under  a  piston  in  a 
cylinder,  and  transmitting  the  power  through  pipes  to  a 
second  cylinder  near  the  mine.  Dr.  Hooke  dissuaded 
Newcomen  from  erecting  a  machine  on  this  principle,  as 
a  waste  of  time  and  labour;  but  he  added  the  pregnant 
suggestion,  "  could  he  (meaning  Papin)  make  a  speedy 
vacuum  under  your  piston,  your  work  were  done." 

The  capital  idea  thus  cursorily  thrown  out— of  intro- 
ducing a  moveable  diaphragm  between  the  active  power 

1  Switzer, '  Introduction  to  a  System  of  Hydrostatics  and  Hydraulics,'  p.  342. 

2  Harris,  '  Lexicon  Technicum.' 


and  the  vacuum — set  Newcomen  at  once  upon  the  right 
track.  Though  the  suggestion  was  merely  that  of  a 
thoughtful  bystander,  it  was  a  most  important  step  in 
the  history  of  the  invention,  for  it  contained  the  very 
principle  of  the  atmospheric  engine.  Savery  created 
his  vacuum  by  the  condensation  of  steam  in  a  closed 
vessel,  and  Papin  created  his  by  exhausting  the  air  in  a 
cylinder  fitted  with  a  piston,  by  means  of  an  air-pump. 
It  remained  for  Newcomen  to  combine  the  two  expe- 
dients— to  secure  a  sudden  vacuum  by  the  condensation 
of  steam  ;  but,  instead  of  employing  Savery 's  closed 
vessel,  he  made  use  of  Papin's  cylinder  fitted  with  a 
piston.  After  long  scheming  and  many  failures,  he  at 
length  succeeded,  in  the  year  1705,1  in  contriving  a 
model  that  worked  with  tolerable  precision ;  after  which 
ho  sought  for  an  opportunity  of  exhibiting  its  powers  in 
a  full-sized  working  engine.  It  ought  to  be  mentioned, 
that  in  the  long  course  of  experiments  conducted  by 
Newcomen  with  the  object  of  finding  out  the  new 
motive  power,  he  was  zealously  assisted  throughout  by 
one  John  Galley,  a  glazier  of  Dartmouth,  of  whom 
nothing  further  is  known  than  that  he  was  Newcomen' s 
intimate  friend,  of  the  same  religious  persuasion,  and 
afterwards  his  partner  in  the  steam-engine  enterprise. 

Newcomen's  engine  may  be  thus  briefly  described  :— 
The  steam  was  generated  in  a  separate  boiler,  as  in 
Saveiy's  engine,  from  which  it  was  conveyed  into  a 
vertical  cylinder  underneath  a  piston  fitting  it  closely, 
but  moveable  upwards  and  downwards  through  its 
whole  length.  The  piston  was  fixed  to  a  rod,  which 

1  It  has  been  stated  that  New- 
comen took  out  a  patent  for  his  in- 
vention in  1705 ;  but  this  is  a  mis- 
take, as  no  patent  was  ever  taken  out 
by  Newcomen.  It  is  supposed  that 
Savery,  having  heard  of  his  invention, 
gave  him  notice  that  he  would  re- 
gard his  method  of  producing  a  speedy 
vacuum  bv  condensation,  as  an  in- 

fringement  of  his  patent,  and  that 
Newcomen  accordingly  agreed  to  give 
him  an  interest  in  the  new  engine 
during  the  term  of  Savery's  patent. 
It  will,  however,  be  observed  that  the 
principle  on  which  Newcomen's  en- 
gine worked  was  entirely  different 
from  that  of  Savery. 


was  attached  by  a  joint  or  a  chain  to  the  end  of  a  lever 
vibrating  upon  an  axis,  the  other  end  being  attached  to 
a  rod  working  a  pump.  When  the  piston  in  the  cylinder 
was  raised,  steam  was  let  into  the  vacated  space  through 
a  tube  fitted  into  the  top  of  the  boiler,  and  mounted 
with  a  stopcock.  The  pump-rod  at  the  further  end  of 
the  lever  being  thus  depressed,  cold  water  was  applied 
to  the  sides  of  the  cylinder,  on  which  the  steam  within 
it  was  condensed,  a  vacuum  was  produced,  and  the 
external  air,  pressing  upon  the  top  of  the  piston,  forced 
it  down  into  the  empty  cylinder.  The  pump-rod  was 
thereby  raised ;  and  the  operation  of  depressing  and 
raising  it  being  repeated,  a  power  was  thus  produced 
which  kept  the  pump  continuously  at  work.  Such,  in  a 
few  words,  was  the  construction  and  action  of  New- 
comen's  first  engine. 

It  will  thus  be  observed  that  this  engine  was  essen- 
tially different  in  principle  from  that  of  Savery.  While 
the  latter  raised  water  partly  by  the  force  of  steam 
and  partly  by  the  pressure  of  the  atmosphere,  that 
of  Newcomen  worked  entirely  by  the  pressure  of  the 
atmosphere,  steam  being  only  used  as  the  most  expe- 
ditious method  of  producing  a  vacuum.  The  engine 
was,  however,  found  to  be  very  imperfect.  It  was  ex- 
ceedingly slow  in  its  motions ;  much  time  was  occupied 
in  condensing  the  contained  steam  by  throwing  cold 
water  on  the  outside  of  the  cylinder ;  and  as  the  boiler 
was  placed  immediately  under  the  cylinder,  it  was  not 
easy  to  prevent  the  cold  water  from  splashing  it,  and 
thus  leading  to  a  further  loss  of  heat.  To  remedy  these 
imperfections,  Newcomen  and  Galley  altered  the  ar- 
rangement ;  and,  instead  of  throwing  cold  water  on  the 
outside  of  the  cylinder,  they  surrounded  it  with  cold 
water.  But  this  expedient  was  also  found  inconvenient, 
as  the  surrounding  water  shortly  became  warm,  and 
ceased  to  condense  until  replaced  by  colder  water ;  but 
the  colder  it  was  the  greater  was  the  loss  of  heat  by  con- 


densation,  before  the  steam  was  enabled  to  fill  the  cylinder 
again  on  each  ascent  of  the  piston. 

Clumsy  and  comparatively  ineffective  though  the 
engine  was  in  this  form,  it  was,  nevertheless,  found  of 
some  use  in  pumping  water  from  mines.  In  1711 
Newcomen  and  Galley  made  proposals  to  the  owners  of 
a  colliery  at  Grriff,  in  Warwickshire,  to  drain  the  water 
from  their  pits,  which  until  then  had  been  drained  by 
the  labour  of  horses ;  but,  the  owners  not  believing  in 
the  practicability  of  the  scheme,  their  offer  was  declined. 
In  the  following  year,  however,  they  succeeded  in  obtain- 
ing a  contract  with  Mr.  Back,  for  drawing  the  water 
from  a  mine  belonging  to  him  near  Wolverhampton. 
The  place  where  the  engine  was  to  be  erected  being 
near  to  Birmingham,  the  ironwork,  the  pump-valves, 
clacks,  and  buckets,  were  for  the  most  part  made 
there,  and  removed  td  the  mine,  where  they  were 
fitted  together.  Newcomen  had  great  difficulty  at  first 
in  making  the  engine  go ;  but  after  many  laborious 
attempts  he  at  last  partially  succeeded.  It  was  found, 
however,  that  the  new  method  of  cooling  the  cylinder 
by  surrounding  it  with  cold  water  did  not  work  so  well 
in  practice  as  had  been  expected.  The  vacuum  pro- 
duced was  very  imperfect,  and  the  action  of  the  engine 
was  both  very  slow  and  very  irregular. 

While  the  engine  was  still  in  its  trial  state,  a  curious 
accident  occurred  which  led  to  another  change  in  the 
mode  of  condensation,  and  proved  of  essential  importance 
in  establishing  Newcomen's  engine  as  a  practicable  work- 
ing power.  The  accident  was  this  :  in  order  to  keep 
the  cylinder  as  free  from  air  as  possible,  great  pains  were 
taken  to  prevent  it  passing  down  by  the  side  of  the 
piston,  which  was  carefully  wrapped  with  cloth  or 
leather ;  and,  still  further  to  keep  the  cylinder  air-tight, 
a  quantity  of  water  was  kept  constantly  laying  on  the 
upper  side  of  the  piston.  At  one  of  the  early  trials  the 
inventors  were  surprised  to  see  the  engine  make  several 





strokes  in  unusually  quick  succession ;  and  on  searching 
for  the  cause,  they  found  it  to  consist  in  a  hole  in  the  pis- 
ton, which  had  let  the  cold  water  in  a  jet  into  the  inside 
of  the  cylinder,  and  thereby  produced  a  rapid  vacuum 
by  the  condensation  of  the  contained  steam.  A  new 
light  suddenly  broke  upon  Newcomen.  The  idea  of 
condensing  by  injection  of  cold  water  directly  into  the 
cylinder,  instead  of  applying  it  on  the  outside,  at  once 
occurred  to  him ;  and  he  proceeded  to  embody  the  expe- 
dient which  had  thus  been  accidentally  suggested,  as  part 
of  his  machine.  The  result  was  the  addition  of  the  in- 
jection-pipe, through  which,  when  the  piston  was  raised 
and  the  cylinder  was  full  of  steam,  a  jet  of  cold  water  was 
thrown  in,  and  the  steam  being  suddenly  condensed, 
the  piston  was  at  once  driven  down  by  the  pressure 
of  the  atmosphere. 

An  accident  of  a  different  kind  shortly  after  led  to 
the  improvement  of  Newcomen's  engine  in  another 
respect.  To  keep  it  at  work,  one  man  was  required  to 
attend  the  fire,  and  another  to  turn  alternately  the  two 
cocks,  one  admitting  the  steam  into  the  cylinder,  the 
other  admitting  the  jet  of  cold  water  to  condense  it. 
The  turning  of  these  cocks  was  easy  work,  usually 
performed  by  a  boy.  It  was,  however,  a  very  mono- 
tonous duty,  though  requiring  constant  attention.  To 
escape  the  drudgery  and  obtain  an  interval  for  rest,  or 
perhaps  for  play,  a  boy  named  Humphrey  Potter,  who 
turned  the  cocks,  set  himself  to  discover  some  method  of 
evading  his  task.  He  must  have  been  an  ingenious  boy, 
as  is  clear  from  the  arrangement  he  contrived  with 
this  object.  Observing  the  alternate  ascent  and  descent 
of  the  beam  above  his  head,  he  bethought  him  of  apply- 
ing the  movement  to  the  alternate  raising  and  lowering 
of  the  levers  which  governed  the  cocks.  The  result  was 
the  contrivance  of  what  he  called  the  scocjgan,1  consisting 

1  Scogging  is  a  north  country  word, 
meaning  skulking  one's  work,  from 
which  probably  the  boy  gave  the 

contrivance  its  name.  Potter,  how- 
ever, grew  up  to  be  a  highly-skilled 
workman.  He  went  abroad  about 




of  a  catch  worked  by  strings  from  the  beam  of  the  engine. 
This  arrangement,  when  tried,  was  found  to  answer  the 
purpose  intended.  The  action  of  the  engine  was  thus 
made  automatic ;  and  the  arrangement,  though  rude,  not 
only  enabled  Potter  to  enjoy  his  play,  but  it  had  the 
effect  of  improving  the  working  power  of  the  engine 
itself;  the  number  of 
strokes  which  it  made 
being  increased  from 
six  or  eight  to  fifteen  or 
sixteen  in  the  minute. 
This  invention  was 
afterwards  greatly  im- 
proved by  Mr.  Henry 
Beighton,  of  New- 
castle-on- Tyne,  who 
added  the  plug -rod 
and  hand -gear.  He 
did  away  with  the 
catches  and  strings  of 
the  boy  Potter's  rude 
apparatus,  and  substi- 
tuted a  rod  suspended 
from  the  beam,  which 
alternately  opened  and  shut  the  tappets  attached  to  the 
steam  and  injection  cocks. 

Thus,  step  by  step,  Newcomen's  engine  grew  in  power 
and  efficiency,  and  became  more  and  more  complete  as 


the  year  1720,  and  erected  an  engine 
at  a  mine  in  Hungary,  described  by 
Leupold  in  his  'Theatrum  Machina- 
rum,'  with  many  encomiums  upon 
Potter,  who  was  considered  the  in- 

1  The  illustration  shows  the  several 
parts  of  Newcomen's  atmospheric  en- 
gine, a  is  the  boiler ;  6,  the  piston 
moving  up  and  down  ;  c,  the  cylinder ; 
d,  a  pipe  proceeding  from  the  top  of 
the  boiler,  and  inserted  into  the  bottom 
of  the  cylinder,  having  a  cock,  e,  to 
interrupt  the  flow  of  steam  at  pleasure ; 

/,  cold-water  cistern,  from  which  the 
cold  water  is  conveyed  by  the  pipe  g, 
called  the  injection -pipe,  and  thrown 
in  a  jet  into  the  cylinder,  b,  on  turning 
the  injection-cock,  h;  the  snifting- 
valve,  i,  enables  the  air  to  escape  from 
the  cylinder,  while  the  siphon-pipe,/, 
enables  the  condensed  steam  to  flow 
from  the  same  cavity  in  the  form  of 
water  ;  k,  the  main  lever  beam  ;  I,  the 
counterpoise  or  weight  hung  on  the 
balance-beam,  or  on  w,  the  pump-rod 
which  works  the  pump,  n. 

F    2 


a  self-acting  machine.  It  will  be  observed  that,  like  all 
other  inventions,  it  was  not  the  product  of  any  one  man's 
ingenuity,  but  of  many.  One  contributed  one  improve- 
ment, and  another  another.  The  essential  features  of 
the  atmospheric  engine  were  not  new.  The  piston  and 
cylinder  had  been  known  as  long  ago  as  the  time  of 
Hero.  The  expansive  force  of  steam  and  the  creation 
of  a  vacuum  by  its  condensation  had  been  known  to  the 
Marquis  of  Worcester,  Savery,  Papin,  and  many  more. 
Newcomen  merely  combined  in  his  machine  the  result 
of  their  varied  experience,  and,  assisted  by  the  persons 
who  worked  with  him,  down  to  the  engine-boy  Potter, 
he  advanced  the  invention  several  important  stages ;  so 
that  the  steam-engine  was  no  longer  a  toy  or  a  scientific 
curiosity,  but  had  become  a  powerful  machine  capable  of 
doing  useful  work. 

The  comparative  success  which  attended  the  working 
of  Newcomen's  first  engine  at  the  colliery  near  Wolver- 
hampton,  shortly  induced  other  owners  of  coal-mines  to 
adopt  it.  There  were  great  complaints  in  the  north, 
of  the  deeper  mines  having  become  unworkable.  All 
the  ordinary  means  of  pumping  them  clear  of  water 
had  failed.  In  their  emergency,  the  colliery-owners 
called  Newcomen  and  Galley  to  their  aid.  They  were 
invited  down  to  Newcastle-upon-Tyne,  in  the  neighbour- 
hood of  which  town  they  erected  their  second  and  third 
engines.  They  were  next  summoned  to  Leeds,  and 
erected  their  fourth  engine  at  Austhorpe,  in  1714.  It 
was  the  sight  of  this  engine  at  work  which  first  induced 
Smeaton,  when  a  boy,  to  turn  his  attention  to  mechanics, 
and  eventually  led  him  to  study  the  atmospheric-engine, 
with  a  view  to  its  improvement.  The  cylinder  of  the 
engine  erected  at  Austhorpe,  like  those  which  had  pre- 
ceded it,  was  about  23  inches  in  diameter,  and  made 
about  fifteen  strokes  a  minute.  The  pumps,  which  were 
in  two  lifts,  and  of  9  inches  bore,  drew  the  water  from  a 
depth  of  37  yards.  The  patentees  had  250/.  a  year  for 




working  and  keeping  the  engine  in  order.  Galley  super- 
intended its  erection,  and  afterwards  its  working ;  but 
he  did  not  long  survive  its  completion,  as  he  died  at 
Austhorpe  in  1717. 

The  next  engines  were  erected  by  Newcomen  in 
Cornwall,  where  there  was  as  great  a  demand  for  in- 
creased pumping-power  as  in  any  of  the  collieries  of  the 
north.  The  first  of  Newcomen's  construction  in  Corn- 
wall was  erected  in  1720,  at  the  Wheal  Fortune  tin 
mine,  in  the  parish  of  Ludgvan,  a  few  miles  north-east 
of  Penzance.  The  mine  was  conducted  by  Mr.  William 
Lemon,  the  founder  of  the  fortunes  of  the  well-known 
Cornish  family.  He  was  born  in  a  humble  station  in 
life,  from  which  he  honourably  raised  himself  by  his 
great  industry,  ability,  and  energy.  He  began  his  career 
as  a  mining-boy ;  was  at  an  early  age  appointed  one  of 
the  managers  of  a  tin-smelting  house  at  Chiandower, 
near  Penzance  ;  and  after  the  experience  gained  by  him 
in  that  capacity  he  engaged  in  the  working  of  the  Wheal 
Fortune  mine.  With  the  help  of  Newcomen's  engine,, 
the  enterprise  proved  completely  successful;  and  after 
realising  a  considerable  sum  he  removed  to  Truro,  and 
began  working  the  great  Glwennap  mines  on  such  a 
scale  as  had  never  before  been  known  in  Cornwall.1 

The  Wheal  Fortune  engine  was  on  a  larger  scale 
than  any  that  had  yet  been  erected,  the  cylinder  being 
47  inches  in  diameter,  making  about  fifteen  strokes  a 
minute.  It  drew  about  a  hogshead  of  water  at  each 
stroke,  from  a  pump  30  fathoms  deep,  through  pit-barrels 

1  Mr.  Lemon  eventually  became  the 
principal  merchant  and  tin-smelter 
of  Cornwall.  Mr.  Da  vies  Gilbert  says : 
— "  The  energies  of  his  mind  were 
not  limited  to  these  undertakings, 
great  though  they  were.  He  culti- 
vated a  taste  for  literature,  and,  which 
is  extremely  unusual,  acquired,  amidst 
business,  and  at  a  middle  age,  the 
power  of  reading  the  classic  authors 

in  their  original  language.  .  .  .  He 
was  distinguished  in  his  district  as 
"  the  great  Mr.  Lemon,"  but  such  were 
the  impressions  of  his  abilities,  his 
exertions,  and  general  merit,  that  a 
progress  so  rapid  and  unexampled  does 
not  appear  to  have  excited  envy,  or 
any  of  those  bad  passions  which 
usually  alloy  the  enjoyment  of  pros- 
perity."— '  History  of  Cornwall,'  ii.  84. 



15  inches  in  diameter,  and  its  performances  were  on 
the  whole  regarded  as  very  extraordinary.  The  prin- 
cipal objection  to  its  use  consisted  in  the  very  large 
quantity  of  coal  that  it  consumed  and  the  heavy  cost  of 
maintaining  it  in  working  order.  There  was  a  great 
waste,  especially  in  boilers,  the  making  of  which  was 
then  ill  understood.  Smeaton  relates  that  in  the  course 
of  four  years'  working  of  the  first  Austhorpe  engine,  not 
fewer  than  four  boilers  were  burnt  out.  The  Wheal 
Fortune  engine,  however,  answered  its  purpose.  It  kept 
down  the  water  sufficiently  to  enable  Mr.  Lemon  to  draw 
up  his  tin,  and  on  leaving  the  mine,  he  took  with  him 


-=----  --..  ..--.-•*• --JF-.   -.,-„_, ^_.  ..„.  . 

1ORTDNE      [By  R.  F    Lriich.] 

to  Truro  a  clear  sum  of  ten  thousand  pounds.  The 
engine-house  is  now  in  ruins,  and  presents  a  highly 
picturesque  appearance,  as  seen  from  the  heights  of 
Trewal,  reminding  one  of  a  Border  Peel  rather  than 
of  a  mining  engine-house. 

Another  of  Newcomen's  engines  was  erected  about 
the  same  time  at  the  Wheal  Rose  mine,  a  few  miles 
north  of  Bedruth.  The  engineer  appointed  to  superin- 
tend its  erection  was  Joseph  Hornblower,  who  came  from 
Staffordshire  for  the  purpose  about  the  year  1725.  Mr. 



Cyrus  Redding,  one  of  Horn- 
blower's  descendants,  says, 
how  he  became  in  any  way 
connected  with  Newcomeri 
must  have  arisen  from  the 
latter  being  at  Bromsgrove, 
when  he  visited  Mr.  Potter, 
who  got  him  to  build  one 
of  his  newly  -  invented  en- 
gines at  Wolverhampton  in 
POI.GOOTH.  1712."1  Another  engine  was 

afterwards  erected  by  Horn- 
blower  at  Whenl  Busy,  or  Chacewater,  and  a  third  at 
Polgooth — all  rich  and  well-known  mines  in  Cornwall. 

Though  the  use  of  Newcomen's  engine  rapidly  ex- 
tended, nothing  is  known  of  the  man  himself  during 
this  time.  All  over  the  mining  districts  his  name  was 

1  "  It  may  be  interesting  to  know 
that  it  required  three  hands  to  work 
Newcomen's  first  engines.  I  have 
heard  it  said  that  when  the  engine 
was  stopped,  and  again  set  at  work, 
the  words  were  passed  "  Snift  Beniy ! " 
"Blow  the  fire,  Pomery!"  "Work 
away,  Joe ! "  The  last  let  in  the  con- 
densing water.  Lifting  the  condensing 
clack  was  called  "snifting,"  because 
on  opening  UK;  valve,  the  air  rushing 
through  it  made  a  noise  like  a  man 

snifting.  The  fire  was  increased 
through  artificial  means  by  another 
hand,  and  all  being  ready,  the  ma- 
chine was  set  in  motion  by  a  third." — 
Cyrus  Eedding,  'Yesterday  and  To- 
day.' London,  1863.  The  "  snifting 
clack"  was  a  valve  in  the  cylinder 
opening  outwards,  which  permitted 
the  escape  of  air  or  permanently 
elastic  fluid,  which  could  not  be  con- 
densed by  cold  and  run  off  through 
the  eduction- pipe. 


identified  with  the  means  employed  for  pumping  the 
mines  clear  of  water,  and  thereby  enabling  an  important 
branch  of  the  national  industry  to  be  carried  on ;  but  of 
Newcomen's  personal  history,  beyond  what  has  been  stated 
above,  we  can  gather  nothing.  It  is  not  known  when  or 
where  he  died,  whether  rich  or  poor.  The  probability 
is  that,  being  a  person  of  a  modest  and  retiring  disposi- 
tion, without  business  energy,  and  having  secured  no 
protection  for  his  invention,  it  was  appropriated  and 
made  use  of  by  others,  without  any  profit  to  him,  whilst 
he  quietly  subsided  into  private  life.  It  is  supposed  that 
he  died  at  Dartmouth  about  the  middle  of  last  century ; 
but  no  stone  marks  the  place  where  he  was  laid.  The 
only  memorial  of  Newcomen  to  be  found  at  his  native 
place  is  the  little  steam-boat  called  by  his  name,  which 
plies  between  Totness  and -Dartmouth. 

During  Newcomen's  lifetime  the  proposal  was  revived 
of  applying  the  steam-engine  to  the  propelling  of  ships. 
Since  Papin's  time  nothing  had  been  accomplished  in 
this  direction.  Now  that  the  steam-engine  was  actively 
employed  in  pumping  mines,  it  was  natural  enough  that 
the  idea  should  be  revived  of  applying  it  to  navigation. 
The  most  enthusiastic  advocate  of  the  new  power  was 
Jonathan  Hulls,  a  native  of  Campden,  in  Gloucestershire, 
where  he  was  born  in  1699.  He  married  a  wife  in  1719, 
before  he  was  out  of  his  teens ;  an  act  of  indiscretion 
in  which,  however,  he  had  the  example  of  one  no  less 
distinguished  than  Shakspeare.  Living  as  he  did  in  an 
inland  country  place,  it  seems  remarkable  that  he  should 
have  directed  his  attention  to  the  subject  of  steam-navi- 
gation. We  find  him  making  experiments  with  models 
of  boats  on  the  river  Avon,  at  Evesham,  and  in  course 
of  time  he  duly  matured  his  ideas  and  embodied  them 
in  his  patent  of  1736.1  He  proposed  to  place  a  New- 
comen  engine  on  board  a  tow-boat,  and  by  its  means  to 

1  In  1737  he  published  a  Treatise 
on  the  subject  entitled,  '  A  descrip- 
tion and  Draught  of  a  new-invented 
Machine  for  carrying  Vessels  or  Ships 

out  of  or  into  any  Harbour,  Port,  or 
River,  against  Wind  or  Tide,  and  in  u 
Calm,'  by  Jonathan  Hulls. 




work  a  paddle- wheel  placed  at  the  stern.  His  method 
of  converting  the  rectilinear  motion  of  his  piston  into  a 
rotary  one  was  ingenious,  but,  like  Savery,  he  missed 
the  crank  on  the  paddle-shaft,  and  many  years  passed 
before  this  simple  expedient  was  adopted.1  "  The 
work  to  be  done  by  this  machine,"  said  he,  "  will  be 
upon  particular  occasions,  when  all  other  means  yet 
found  out  are  wholly  insufficient.  How  often  does  a 
merchant  wish  that  his  ship  were  on  the  ocean,  when,  if 
she  were  there,  the  wind  would  serve  tolerably  well  to 
carry  him  on  his  intended  voyage,  but  does  not  serve  at 
the  same  time  to  carry  him  out  of  the  river  he  happens 
to  be  in,  which  a  few  hours'  work  of  the  machine  would 
do.  Besides,  I  know  engines  that  are  driven  by  the 
same  power  as  this  is,  where  materials  for  the  purpose 
are  dearer  than  in  any  navigable  river  in  England; 
therefore  experience  demonstrates  that  the  expense  will 
be  but  a  trifle  to  the  value  of  the  work  performed  by 
those  sort  of  machines,  which  any  person  that  knows 
the  nature  of  those  things  may  easily  calculate."  His 
treatise  was  illustrated  by  a  drawing,  of  which  the  fol- 
lowing is  a  copy  on  a  reduced  scale. 


1  In  di'scribing  his  mode  of  obtain- 
ing rotary  motion  by  ratchet  wheels, 

a  wei 

ght,  and  ropes,  Hulls  states  that 

he  uses  two  axes,  one  behind  the 
other,  each  of  which  is  essential  to 
the  object ;  and  he  then  adds,  that 


The  inventor,  aware  of  the  novelty  of  his  proposal 
and  of  the  readiness  of  the  public  to  ridicule  novelties, 
deprecated  rash  censure  of  his  project,  and  only  claimed 
for  it  a  fair  and  unprejudiced  trial.  In  order  to  exhibit 
the  powers  of  his  steam-boat,  he  constructed  an  engine 
in  1737,  and  had  it  fixed  on  board  a  little  vessel  for  trial 
in  the  river  Avon  at  Evesham.  The  trial  was  not  satis- 
factory, and  the  engine  was  taken  on  shore  again.  "  A 
failure !  A  failure  ! "  cried  the  spectators,  who  stigma- 
tised the  projector  as  an  ass.  The  prophet  had,  indeed, 
no  honour  whatever  in  his  own  country.  Long  after 
his  steam-boat  experiment  had  been  forgotten,  these  lines 
about  him  were  remembered  : — 

"  Jonathan  Hull, 

With  his  paper  skull, 
'Fried  hard  to  make  a  machine 
That  should  go  against  wind  and  tide  : 
But  he,  like  an  ass, 
Couldn't  bring  it  to  pass, 
So  at  last  was  ashamed  to  be  seen." l 

Not  much  more  is  known  of  Jonathan  Hulls' s  history. 
In  1754  he  published,  in  conjunction  with  two  others, 
a  treatise  on  '  The  Art  of  Measuring  made  Easy,  by  the 
help  of  a  new  Sliding-rule  ;'  and  shortly  after  '  The  Malt- 
maker's  Instructor ;'  but  nothing  more  was  heard  of 
Jonathan  Hulls's  steam-boat. 

We  return  to  the  Newcomen  engine,  which  became 
increasingly  employed  as  a  pumping  power  in  all  the 
mining  districts.  Borlase,  writing  in  1758,  says  that 
"  fire-engines  "  were  then  in  regular  use  at  North  Downs 

when  his  tow-boat  is  to  be  used  in 
shallow  rivers,  the  machine  works  by 
two  cranks  fixed  to  the  hindermost 
axis ;  to  which  cranks  are  fixed  two 
shafts  (or  poles)  of  proper  length  to 

rotary  motion  from  the  axis  on  which 
they  are  placed,  and  do  not,  as  has 
been  erroneously  stated,  impart  that 
motion  to  it.  —  Bennet  Woodcroft, 
'  Sketch  of  the  Origin  and  Progress 

reach  the  bottom  of  the  river,  and  of  Steam  Navigation.'  London,  1848. 
which  move  alternately  forward  from  l  There  are  several  versions  of  the 
the  motion  of  the  wheels  ~by  which  the  same  satire  current  to  this  day  in  the 
vessel  is  carried  on  :  so  that  the  j  villages  of  Campden  and  Hanging 
cranks,  as  described  by  Hulls,  receive  !  Aston. 



near  Kedruth,  Pitt-louarn,  Polgooth,  Wheal-rith,  Pool, 
Dolcoath,  Her  land,  and  many  other  places.1  Indeed 
there  was  scarcely  a  tin  or  copper  mine  of  any  import- 
ance in  Cornwall  that  had  not  one  or  more  of  New- 
come  n's  engines  at  work.  They  were  also  in  general  use 
in  Staffordshire,  Yorkshire,  Lancashire,  and  Northumber- 
land. In  the  latter  counties,  where  they  were  principally 
used  for  pumping  water  out  of  the  coal  mines,  fuel  was 
ready  at  hand,  cheap  and  abundant.  But  in  Cornwall 
it  was  otherwise.  The  coal  had  to  be  brought  thither 
from  a  great  distance,  partly  by  sea  and  partly  by  land, 
and  the  cost  of  carriage  was  very  heavy.  It,  therefore, 
became  an  object  of  much  importance  to  reduce  the  con- 
sumption of  fuel,  to  prevent  the  profits  of  the  mines 
being  absorbed  by  the  heavy  cost  of  working  the  pumps. 
This,  indeed,  was  the  great  objection  to  Newcomen's 
engine,  especially  in  Cornwall.  The  consumption  of 
fuel  at  some  mines  was  so  enormous,  that  it  was  doubt- 
ful whether  the  cost  of  steam  did  not  exceed  that  of  an 
equal  amount  of  horse  power,  and  it  became  more  and 
more  difficult  to  realise  even  a  bare  margin  of  profit. 
The  two  engines  at  Wheal  Rose  and  Wheal  Busy,  near 
Chace water,  of  66  and  72  inches  diameter,  consumed 
each  about  thirteen  tons  of  coal  daily.  To  relieve  the 
mining  interest,  in  some  measure,  from  this  charge, 
government  allowed  a  drawback  of  five  shillings  a 
chaldron  on  coal ;  but  in  some  cases  this  was  found 
insufficient,  and  it  began  to  be  complained  that  the 
consumption  of  coal  was  so  great,  that  the  mines  were 
barely  paying. 

Invention,  however,  was  constantly  at  work,  and 
new  improvements  were  from  time  to  time  introduced, 
with  the  object  of  economising  fuel  and  increasing  the 
efficiency  of  the  engine.  Among  the  ingenious  men 
who  devoted  themselves  to  this  work,  were  Payne, 

Borlase,  'Natural  History  of  Cornwall,'  p.  175. 




Brindley,  and  Smeaton.  Of  these,  the  last  especially 
distinguished  himself  by  his  improvements  of  the  New- 
comen  engine,  which  he  may  be  said  to  have  carried 
to  the  highest  perfection  of  which  it  was  capable.  His 
famous  Chacewater  engine  was  the  finest  and  most 
powerful  work  of  the  kind  which  had  until  then  been 
constructed,  and  it  remained  unrivalled  until  super- 
seded by  the  invention  of  Watt,  to  whose  life  and 
labours  we  now  proceed  to  direct  the  attention  of  the 

DARTMOUTH,  FROM  THE  HARBOUR.     [By  R.  P.  Leitch  ] 



[By   R.   P.   Leitch.    after   a   sketch    by   J     S     Smiles  ] 

[Fac-simile  of  an  old  print..] 



JAMES  WATT  was  born  at  G-reenock,  on  the  Clyde,  on 
the  19th  of  January,  1736.  His  parents  were  of  the 
middle  class,  industrious,  intelligent,  and  religious 
people,  with  a  character  for  probity  which  had  de- 
scended to  them  from  their  "  forbears,"  and  was  che- 
rished as  their  proudest  inheritance.  James  Watt  was 
thus  emphatically  well-born.  His  father  and  grand- 
father both  held  local  offices  of  trust,  and  honourable 
mention  is  made  of  them  in  the  records  of  Greenock. 
His  grandfather,  Thomas  Watt,  was  the  first  of  the 
family  who  lived  in  that  neighbourhood.  He  had  mi- 
grated thither  from  the  county  of  Aberdeen,  where  his 
father  was  a  small  farmer  in  the  time  of  Charles  I.  It 
is  supposed  that  he  took  part  with  the  Covenanters  in 
resisting  the  Marquis  of  Montrose  in  his  sudden  descent 
upon  Aberdeen  at  the  head  of  his  wild  Highlanders  in 


the  autumn  of  1644 ;  and  that  the  Covenanting  farmer 
was  killed  in  one  of  the  battles  that  ensued.  The  dis- 
trict was  ravaged  by  the  victorious  Royalists ;  the  crops 
were  destroyed,  cattle  lifted,  dwellings  burnt ;  and  many 
of  the  inhabitants  fled  southwards  for  refuge  in  more 
peaceful  districts.  Hence  Thomas  Watt's  migration  to 
Cartsdyke,  where  we  find  him  settled  as  a  teacher  of 
navigation  and  mathematics,  about  the  middle  of  the 
seventeenth  century. 

Cartsdyke,  or  Crawfordsdyke,  was  then  a  village 
situated  a  little  to  the  east  of  G-reenock,  though  now 
forming  part  of  it.  Crawfordsburn  House,  still  standing, 
was  the  residence  of  the  lord  of  the  manor,  and  is  a  good 
specimen  of  the  old-fashioned  country  mansion.  It  is 


beautifully  situated  on  the  high  ground  overlooking  the 
Clyde.  In  former  times  a  green  slope  stretched  down 
from  it  towards  the  beach,  along  which  lay  the  village, 
consisting  of  about  a  hundred  cottages,  mostly  thatched. 
Cartsdyke  was,  however,  in  early  times,  a  place  of  greater 
importance  than  G-reenock.  It  had  a  pier,  which 
Greenock  as  yet  had  not  ;  and  from  this  pier  the  first 
Clyde  ship  which  crossed  the  Atlantic  sailed  for  Darien 
in  1697.  What  little  enterprise  existed  in  the  neigh- 


bourhood  was  identified  with  Cartsdyke  rather  than 
with  Greenock ;  and  hence  Thomas  Watt's  preference 
for  it,  in  setting  up  there  as  a  teacher.  He,  too,  like  his 
sire,  seems  to  have  been  a  sturdy  Covenanter  ;  for  we 
find  him,  in  1683,  refusing  to  take  the  test  in  favour  of 
prelacy,  and  he  was  consequently  proclaimed  to  be  a 
"disorderly  schoolmaster  officiating  contrary  to  law." 
He  nevertheless  continued  the  teaching  of  the  mathe- 
matics, in  which  he  seems  to  have  prospered,  as,  besides 
marrying  a  wife,  he  shortly  after  bought  the  house  and 
garden  which  he  occupied,  and  subsequently  added  to 
his  possessions  a  tenement  in  the  neighbouring  village 
of  Greenock. 

From  the  nature  of  his  calling,  it  is  obvious  that  he 
must  have  been  a  thoughtful  and  intelligent  person  ;l 
and  that  he  was  a  man  of  excellent  character  is  clear 
from  the  confidence  he  inspired  in  those  who  had  the 
best  opportunities  of  knowing  him.  When  William 
and  Mary  were  confirmed  in  their  occupancy  of  the 
British  throne,  shortly  after  the  Revolution  of  1688, 
one  of  the  first  acts  of  Mr.  Crawford,  of  Crawfordsburn, 
the  feudal  superior,  was  to  appoint  Thomas  Watt  baillie 
of  the  barony — a  position  of  local  importance,  involving 
the  direction  of  public  affairs  within  the  limits  of  his 

A  few  years  later,  the  Kirk  Session  of  Greenock, 
having  found  him  "  blameless  in  life  and  conversation," 
appointed  him  an  Elder  of  the  parish,  when  it  became 
part  of  his  duty  to  overlook  not  only  the  religious 
observances,  but  the  manners  and  morals,  of  the  little 
community.  Kirk  Sessions  did  not  then  confine  them- 
selves to  ecclesiastical  affairs,  but  assumed  the  function 
of  magistrates,  and  almost  exercised  the  powers  of  an 

1  Among  the  few  household  articles 
belonging  to  him  which  descended  to 
his  son,  and  afterwards  to  his  grand- 

one  of  Sir  Isaac  Newton,  and  the 
other  of  John  Napier,  the  inventor  of 

son  the  engineer,  were  two  portraits, 



inquisition.  One  of  their  most  important  duties  was  to 
provide  for  the  education  of  the  rising  generation,  in 
pursuance  of  the  injunction  of  John  Knox,  "that  no 
father,  of  what  estate  or  condition  that  ever  he  may  be, 
use  his  children  at  his  own  fantasie,  especially  in  their 
youthhead ;  but  all  must  be  compelled  to  bring  up  their 
children  in  learning  and  virtue," — words  which  lie  at 
the  root  of  much  of  Scotland's  mental  culture,  as  well 
as,  probably,  of  its  material  prosperity.  In  1696 
the  Act  was  passed  by  the  Scotch  Parliament  which  is 
usually  regarded  as  the  charter  of  the  Scotch  parish- 
school  system  ;  and  in  the  following  year  the  Kirk  Ses- 
sion of  Greenock  proceeded  to  make  provision  for  the 
establishment  of  their  parish  school,  which  continued 
until  the  Town  Council  superseded  it  by  the  Grammar 
School,  at  which  James  Watt,  the  future  engineer,  re- 
ceived the  best  part  of  his  school  education. 

After  holding  the  offices  of  Presbytery  Elder  and 
Kirk  Treasurer  for  some  time,  Thomas  Watt  craved 
leave  to  retire  into  private  life.  He  was  seventy  years 
old,  and  felt  infirmities  growing  upon  him.  The  plea 
was  acknowledged,  and  the  request  granted ;  and  on  his 
retirement  from  office  the  Kirk  Session  recorded  on 
their  minutes  that  Thomas  Watt  had  been  found  "  dili- 
gent and  faithful  in  the  management  of  his  trust."  He 
died  at  the  age  of  92,  and  was  buried  in  the  old  kirk- 
yard  of  Greenock,  where  his  tombstone  is  still  to  be 
seen.  He  is  there  described  as  "  Professor  of  Mathe- 
matics in  Crawfordsdyk."  Not  far  from  his  grave  lie, 
"mouldering  in  silent  dust,"  the  remains  of  Burns' s 
Highland  Mary,  who  died  while  on  a  visit  to  a  relative 
at  Greenock. 

Two  sons  survived  the  "  Professor,"  John  and  James, 
who  were  well  settled  in  life  when  the  old  man  died. 
John,  the  elder,  was  trained  by  his  father  in  mathe- 
matics and  surveying  ;  for  some  time  officiating  under 
him  as  clerk  to  the  barony  of  Cartsdyke,  and  afterwards 


removing  to  Glasgow,  where  he  began  business  on  his 
own  account.  In  the  year  that  his  father  died  (1734) 
he  made  the  first  survey  of  the  river  Clyde  ;  but  he 
died  shortly  after,  and  the  map  was  published  by  his 
nephew.  James,  the  engineer's  father,  was  bound  ap- 
prentice to  a  carpenter  and  shipwright  at  Cartsdyke, 
and  on  the  expiry  of  his  term  he  set  up  business  for 
himself  in  the  same  line  at  Greenock. 

About  the  beginning  of  the  last  century,  Greenock, 
now  one  of  the  busiest  ports  in  the  kingdom,  was  but  a 
little  fishing-village,  consisting  of  a  single  row  of 
thatched  cottages  lying  parallel  with  the  sandy  beach  of 
the  Frith  of  Clyde,  in  what  was  then  known  as  "  Sir 
John's  little  bay."  Sir  John  Shaw  was  the  superior,  or 
lord  of  the  manor,  his  mansion  standing  on  a  height 
overlooking  the  tow^n,1  and  commanding  an  extensive 
view  of  the  Clyde,  from  Roseneath  to  Dumbarton. 
Across  the  water  lay  the  beautiful  north  shore,  broken 
by  the  long  narrow  sea-lochs  running  far  away  among 
the  Argyleshire  hills.  Their  waters,  now  plashed  by 
the  paddles  of  innumerable  Clyde  steamers,  were  then 
only  disturbed  by  the  passing  of  an  occasional  Highland 
coble  ;  whilst  their  shores,  now  fringed  with  villages, 
villas,  and  mansions,  were  as  lonely  as  Glencoe. 

Greenock  was  in  a  great  measure  isolated  from  other 
towns  by  impassable  roads.  The  only  route  to  Gree- 
nock, on  the  west,  lay  along  the  beach,  and  when  strong 
winds  raised  a  high  tide  the  communication  was  en- 
tirely cut  off.  Greenock  was  separated  from  Cartsdyke, 
on  the  east,  by  the  Ling  Burn,  which  was  crossed  by  a 
plank,  afterwards  supplanted  by  an  old  ship's  rudder ; 
and  it  was  about  the  middle  of  the  century  before  a 

The  mansion  house  of  the  Shaws 
is  now   principally  occupied   as   ma- 

ffices.      Tin 

norial  offices.  The  fine  old  garden 
and  pleasure-grounds  have  been  pre- 
sented by  Sir  John  Shaw  to  the 

for  ever.  It  is  now  called  "  The 
Watt  Park,"  and  a  more  beautiful 
spot  (bating  the  smoke  of  the  busy 
town  below)  is  scarcely  to  be  found 
in  Britain. 

people  of  Greenock  as  a  public  park   I 

G    2 



CHAP.  V. 

bridge  was  built  across  the  stream.  The  other  provi- 
sions of  the  place  for  public  service  and  convenience 
were  of  a  like  rude  and  primitive  character :  thus, 
GTreenock  could  not  boast  of  a  public  clock  until  about 
the  middle  of  the  last  century,  when  a  town  clock  was 
mounted  in  a  wooden  steeple.  Till  then,  a  dial,  still 
standing,  marked  the  hours  when  the  sun  shone,  and  a 
bell  hung  upon  a  triangle  summoned  the  people  to  kirk 
and  market.  Besides  the  kirk,  however,  there  was 
another  public  building — the  Black  Hole,  or  prison, 
which,  like  the  other  houses  in  the  place,  was  covered 
with  thatch.  Before  the  prison  were  placed  the  "jougs," 
as  a  terror  to  evil-doers,  as  well  as  a  few  old  pieces  of 
cannon,  taken  from  one  of  the  ships  of  the  Spanish 
Armada  wrecked  near  Pencores  Castle.  The  Black 
Hole,  the  jougs,  and  the  cannon  were  thought  necessary 
precautions  against  the  occasional  visits  to  which  the 
place  was  subject  from  the  hungry  Highlandmen  on 
the  opposite  shores  of  the  firth.1 

The  prosperity  of  G-reenock  dates  from  the  year  1707, 
shortly  after  the  Union  with  England.  The  British 
Parliament  then  granted  what  the  Scottish  Parliament 
had  refused — the  privilege  of  constructing  a  harbour. 
Before  that  time  there  was  no  pier, — only  a  rude 
landing-stage  which  Sir  John  Shaw  had  provided  for 
his  barge  in  the  "  Little  Bay ;"  but  the  fishermen's 

1  In  1715  the  Greenock  and  Carts- 
dyke  men  kept  strict  watch  and 
ward  for  eighty  days  against  a  threat- 
ened visit  of  Rob  Hoy  and  his  caterans. 
The  conduct  of  these  unruly  neigh- 
bours continued  to  cause  apprehen- 
sions amongst  the  townspeople  until 
a  much  later  period,  especially  during 
fair  time,  then  the  great  event  of  the 
year.  The  fair  was  the  occasion  of 
the  annual  gathering  of  the  people 
from  the  neighbouring  country  to 
buy  and  to  sell.  Highlandmen  came 
from  the  opposite  shores  and  from 
the  lochs  down  the  Clyde,  men  caring 
little  for  Lowland  law,  but  duly  im- 

pressed by  a  display  of  force.  Their 
boats  were  drawn  up  on  the  beach 
with  their  prows  to  the  High  Street, 
the  north  side  of  which  at  that  time 
lay  open  to  the  sea.  The  Highland 
folk  lived  and  slept  on  board,  each 
boat  having  a  plank  or  gangway 
between  it  and  the  shore.  On  the 
first  day  of  the  fair  Sir  John  Shaw, 
the  feudal  superior,  convened  the 
local  dignitaries,  the  deacons  and  the 
trades,  and  after  drinking  the  King's 
health  and  throwing  the  glasses 
amongst  the  populace,  they  formed 
in  procession  and  perambulated  the 


boats  and  other  small  craft  frequenting  the  place  were 
beached  in  the  usual  primitive  way.  Yessels  of  burden 
requiring  to  load  or  unload  their  cargoes  did  so  at  the 
pier  at  Cartsdyke  above  referred  to.  When  the  neces- 
sary powers  were  granted  to  make  a  harbour  at  G-ree- 
nock,  the  inhabitants  proceeded  to  tax  themselves  to 
provide  the  necessary  means,  paying  a  shilling  and 
fourpence  for  every  sack  of  malt  brewed  into  ale  within 
the  barony ;  ale,  not  whisky,  being  then  the  popular 
drink  of  Scotland.  The  devotion  of  the  townspeople  to 
their  "  yill  caups  "  must  have  been  considerable,  as  the 
harbour  was  finished  and  opened  in  1710,  and  in  thirty 
years  the  principal  debt  was  paid  off. 

In  course  of  time  Grreenock  was  made  a  custom- 
house port,  and  its  trade  rapidly  increased.  The  first 
solitary  vessel,  freighted  with  Glasgow  merchandise 
for  the  American  colonies,  sailed  from  the  new  har- 
bour in  1719  ;  and  now  the  custom-house  dues  col- 
lected there  amount  to  more  than  six  times  the  whole 
revenue  of  Scotland  in  the  time  of  the  Stuarts. 

Here  James  Watt,  son  of  the  Cartsdyke  teacher  of 
mathematics,  and  father  of  the  engineer,  began  business 
about  the  year  1730.  His  occupation  was  of  a  very 
miscellaneous  character,  and  embraced  most  branches  of 
carpentry.  He  was  a  house wright,  shipwright,  car- 
penter, and  undertaker,  as  well  as  a  builder  and  con- 
tractor, having  in  the  course  of  his  life  enlarged  the 
western  front  of  Sir  John  Shaw's  mansion-house,  and 
designed  and  built  the  Town-hall  and  Council-chambers. 
To  these  various  occupations  Mr.  Watt  added  that  of  a 
general  merchant.  He  supplied  the  ships  frequenting 
the  port  with  articles  of  merchandise  as  well  as  with 
ships?  stores.  He  also  engaged  in  foreign  mercantile 
ventures,  and  held  shares  in  several  ships. 

Three  months  after  the  death  of  his  father,  to  a  share 
of  whose  property  he  succeeded,  Mr.  Watt  purchased  a 
house  on  the  Mid-Quay  Head,  at  the  lower  end  of 



CHAP.  V. 

William-street,  with  a  piece  of  ground  belonging  to  it, 
which  extended  to  the  beach.  On  this  piece  of  ground 
stood  Watt's  carpenter's  shop,  in  which  a  great  deal  of 
miscellaneous  work  was  executed — household  furniture 
and  ships'  fittings,  chairs,  tables,  coffins,  and  capstans,  as 
well  as  the  ordinary  sorts  of  joinery ;  while  from  his 
stores  he  was  ready  to  supply  blocks,  pumps,  gun-car- 
riages, dead-eyes,  and  other  articles  used  on  board  ship. 
He  was  ready  to  "  touch  "  ships'  compasses,  and  to  adjust 
and  repair  nautical  instruments  generally  ;  while  on  an 
emergency  he  could  make  a  crane  for  harbour  uses— 
the  first  in  G-reenock  having  been  executed  in  his  shops, 
and  erected  on  the  pier  for  the  convenience  of  the  Vir- 
ginia tobacco-ships  beginning  to  frequent  the  harbour. 
These  multifarious  occupations  were  necessitated  by 
the  smallness  of  the  place,  the  business  of  a  single 
calling  being  as  yet  too  limited  to  yield  a  competency 
to  an  enterprising  man,  or  sufficient  scope  for  his 

Being  a  person  of  substance  and  respectability,  Mr. 
Watt  was  elected  by  his  fellow  townsmen  to  fill  various 
public  offices,  such  as  trustee  for  the  burgh  fund,  town 
councillor,  treasurer,  and  afterwards  baillie  or  chief 
magistrate.  He  also  added  to  his  comfort  as  well  as  to 
his  dignity  by  marrying  a  wife  of  character,  Agnes 
Muirhead,  a  woman  esteemed  by  her  neighbours  for  her 
graces  of  person,  as  well  as  of  mind  and  heart.  She  is 
said  to  have  been  not  less  distinguished  for  her  sound 
sense  and  good  manners  than  for  her  cheerful  temper 
and  excellent  housewifery.1  Such  was  the  mother  of 

1  Some  of  her  neighbours  thought 
her  stately  and  unbending,  and  that 
she  affected  a  superior  style  of  living. 
In  the  '  Memorials  of  Watt,'  by  the 
late  George  Williamson,  Esq.,  Gree- 
nock,  are  to  be  found  many  curious 
and  interesting  details  as  to  the  Watt 
family;  collected  partly  from  tradi- 
tion and  partly  from  local  records. 

Of  Mrs.  Watt's  "  superior  style  of 
living,"  compared  with  the  custom  of 
the  period,  the  following  anecdote  is 
given : — "  One  of  the  author's  in- 
formants on  such  points,  a  venerable 
lady  in  her  eightieth  year,  was  wont 
to  spwik  of  the  worthy  baillie's  wife 
with  much  characteristic  interest  and 
animation.  As  illustrative  of  the 

CHAP.  V. 



James  Watt.  Three  of  her  five  children  died  in  child- 
hood ;  John,  her  fifth  son,  perished  at  sea  when  on  a 
voyage  to  America  in  one  of  his  father's  ships;  and 
James,  the  fourth  of  the  family,  remained  her  only  sur- 
viving child.  He  was  born  in  the  house  which  stood  at 
the  corner  between  the  present  Dairy m pie-street  and 
William-street,  since  taken  down  and  replaced  by  the 
building-  now  known  as  the  "  James  Watt  Tavern." 

[By  R    P.  Leitch] 

From  his  earliest  years  James  Watt  was  of  an  ex- 
tremely fragile  constitution,  requiring  the  tenderest 
nurture.  Struggling  as  it  were  for  life  all  through  his 
childhood,  he  acquired  an  almost  feminine  delicacy  and 
sensitiveness,  which  made  him  shrink  from  the  rough 
play  of  robust  children ;  and  hence,  during  his  early 
years,  his  education  was  entirely  conducted  at  home. 
His  mother  taught  him  reading,  and  his  father  a  little 
writing  and  arithmetic.  His  mother,  to  amuse  him, 

internal  economy  of  the  family,  the 
old  lady  related  an  occasion  on  which 
she  had  spent  an  evening,  when  a 
girl,  at  Mrs.  Watt's  house,  and  re- 
membered expressing  with  much 
naivetl  to  her  mother  on  returning 
home,  her  childish  surprise  that 
*  Mrs.  Watt  had  two  lighted  candles 

on  the  table.'  Among  these  and 
other  reminiscences  of  her  youth,  our 
venerable  informant  described  James 
Watt's  mother,  in  her  expressive 
Doric,  as  'a  braw,  braw  woman — 
none  now  to  be  seen  like  her.'  "  p. 


encouraged  him  to  draw  with  a  pencil  on  paper,  or  with 
chalk  upon  the  floor ;  and  his  father  supplied  him  with 
a  few  tools  from  the  carpenter's  shop,  which  he  soon 
learnt  to  handle  with  expertness.  In  such  occupations 
he  found  the  best  resource  against  ennui.  He  took  his 
toys  to  pieces,  and  out  of  the  parts  ingeniously  con- 
structed new  ones.  The  mechanical  dexterity  which  he 
thus  cultivated  even  as  a  child  was  probably  in  a  great 
measure  the  foundation  upon  which  he  built  the  specu- 
lations to  which  he  owes  his  glory ;  nor,  without  his 
early  mechanical  training,  is  there  reason  to  believe  that 
he  would  afterwards  become  the  improver  and  almost 
the  creator  of  the  steam-engine. 

The  invalid  thus  passed  his  early  years  almost  entirely 
in  the  society  of  his  mother,  whose  gentle  nature,  strong 
good  sense,  and  unobtrusive  piety,  exercised  a  most 
beneficial  influence  in  the  formation  of  his  character. 
Nor  were  his  parents  without  their  reward ;  for  as  the 
boy  grew  up  to  manhood  he  repaid  their  anxious  care 
with  obedience,  respect,  and  affection.  Mrs.  Watt  was 
in  after  life  accustomed  to  say  that  the  loss  of  her  only 
daughter,  which  she  had  felt  so  severely,  had  been  fully 
made  up  to  her  by  the  dutiful  attentions  of  her  son. 

Spending  his  life  indoors,  without  exercise,  his  nervous 
system  became  preternaturally  sensitive.  He  was  subject 
to  violent  sick  headaches,  which  confined  him  to  his 
room  for  weeks  together ;  and  it  almost  seems  a  marvel 
that,  under  such  circumstances,  he  should  have  survived 
his  boyhood.  It  is  in  such  cases  as  his  that  indications 
of  precocity  are  generally  observed ;  and  parents  would 
be  less  gratified  at  their  display  if  they  knew  that  they 
are  usually  the  symptoms  of  disease.  Several  remark- 
able instances  of  this  precocity  are  related  of  Watt.  On 
one  occasion,  when  he  was  bending  over  the  hearth  with 
a  piece  of  chalk  in  his  hand,  a  friend  of  his  father  said, 
"  You  ought  to  send  that  boy  to  a  public  school,  and  not 
allow  him  to  trifle  away  his  time  at  home."  "  Look  how 


my  child  is  occupied,"  said  the  father,  "  before  you  con- 
demn him."  Though  only  six  years  old,  it  is  said  he 
was  found  trying  to  solve  a  problem  in  geometry. 

On  another  occasion  he  was  reproved  by  Mrs.  Muir- 
head,  his  aunt,  for  his  indolence  at  the  tea-table.  "  James 
Watt,"  said  the  worthy  lady,  "  I  never  saw  such  an  idle 
boy  as  you  are  :  take  a  book  or  employ  yourself  usefully  ; 
for  the  last  hour  you  have  not  spoken  one  word,  but 
taken  off  the  lid  of  that  kettle  and  put  it  on  again, 
holding  now  a  cup  and  now  a  silver  spoon  over  the  steam, 
watching  how  it  rises  from  the  spout,  catching  and 
counting  the  drops  it  falls  into."  In  the  view  of  M. 
Arago,  the  little  James  before  the  tea-kettle  becomes 
athe  great  engineer,  preparing  the  discoveries  which 
were  soon  to  immortalize  him."  In  our  opinion  the 
judgment  of  the  aunt  was  the  truest.  There  is  no  reason 
to  suppose  that  the  mind  of  the  boy  was  occupied  with 
philosophical  theories  on  the  condensation  of  steam, 
which  he  compassed  with  so  much  difficulty  in  his 
maturer  years.  This  is  more  probably  an,  afterthought 
borrowed  from  his  subsequent  discoveries.  Nothing  is 
commoner  than  for  children  to  be  amused  with  such 
phenomena,  in  the  same  way  that  they  will  form  air- 
bubbles  in  a  cup  of  tea,  and  watch  them  sailing  over  the 
surface  till  they  burst.  The  probability  is  that  little 
James  was  quite  as  idle  as  he  seemed. 

When  he  was  at  length  sent  to  Mr.  M' Adam's  com- 
mercial school,  the  change  caused  him  many  trials  and 
much  suffering.  He  found  himself  completely  out  of 
place  in  the  midst  of  the  boisterous  juvenile  republic. 
Against  the  tyranny  of  the  elders  he  was  helpless  ;  their 
wild  play  was  most  distasteful  to  him ;  he  could  not  join 
in  their  sports,  nor  roam  with  them  along  the  beach, 
nor  shy  stones  into  the  water,  nor  take  part  in  their 
hazardous  exploits  in  the  harbour.  Accordingly  they 
showered  upon  him  contemptuous  epithets ;  and  the 
school  being  composed  of  both  sexes,  the  girls  joined  in 



('HAP.  V. 

the  laugh.  He  shone  as  little  in  the  class  as  in  the 
playground.  He  did  not  possess  that  parrot  power  of 
learning  and  confidence  in  self  necessary  to  achieve 
distinction  at  school ;  and  he  was  even  considered  dull 
and  backward  for  his  age.1  His  want  of  progress 
may,  however,  in  some  measure  be  accounted  for  by  his 
almost  continual  ailments,  which  sometimes  kept  him 
for  weeks  together  at  home.  It  was  not  until  he  reached 
the  age  of  about  thirteen  or  fourteen,  when  he  was  put 
into  the  mathematical  class,  that  his  powers  appeared  to 
develop  themselves,  and  from  that  time  he  made  rapid 

When  not  quite  fourteen,  he  was  taken  by  his  mother 
for  change  of  air  to  Glasgow,  then  a  quiet  place  without 
a  single  long  chimney,  somewhat  resembling  a  rural 
market-town  of  the  present  day.  He  was  left  in  charge 
of  a  relation,  and  his  mother  returned  to  Greenock.  But 
he  proved  so  wakeful  during  the  visit,  and  so  disposed 
to  indulge  in  that  habit  of  storytelling,  which  even  Sir 
Walter  Scott  could  afterwards  admire  in  him,  that  Mr. 
Watt  was  very  soon  written  to  by  his  friend,  and  en- 
treated to  return  to  Glasgow  and  take  home,  his  son. 
"  I  cannot  stand  the  excitement  he  keeps  me  in,"  said 
Mrs.  Campbell ;  "I  am  worn  out  for  want  of  sleep. 
Every  evening,  before  retiring  to  rest,  he  contrives  to 
engage  me  in  conversation,  then  begins  some  striking 
tale,  and  whether  humorous  or  pathetic,  the  interest  is 
so  overpowering,  that  the  family  all  listen  to  him  with 
breathless  attention,  and  hour  after  hour  strikes  un- 

1  The  truth  in  regard  to  young 
Watt's  first  years  in  the  public  school 
is,  that,  owing  doubtless  to  infirm 
health,  to  the  suffering  and  depres- 
sion which  affected  his  whole  powers, 
he  was  prevented  for  a  considerable 
time  displaying  even  a  very  ordi- 
nary and  moderate  aptitude  for  the 
common  routine  of  school  lessons ; 
and  during  those  years  he  was  re- 
garded by  his  schoolmasters  as  slow 

and  inapt.  Although  to  some  minds 
facts  of  such  a  nature  may  be  con- 
ceived to  mar  the  romance  of  a  great 
man's  history,  yet,  seeing  they  rest 
on  authenticity  which  cannot  be  im- 
pugned, there  appears  no  reasonable 
ground  on  which  it  may  be  thought 
that  they  ought  to  be  passed  over 
as  if  they  had  not  existed,  or  were 
altogether  unfounded. — Williamson's 
'  Memorials  of  Watt,'  p.  130. 


heeded."  He  was  taken  back  to  Greenock  accordingly, 
and,  when  well  enough,  was  sent  to  the  Grammar  School 
of  the  town,  then  kept  by  Mr.  Eobert  Arrol.  Under 
him,  Watt  made  fair  progress  in  the  rudiments  of  Latin 
and  Greek  ;  but  he  was  still  more  successful  in  the  study 
of  mathematics,  which  he  prosecuted  under  Mr.  John 
Marr.  It  was  only  when  he  entered  on  this  branch  of 
learning  that  he  discovered  his  strength,  and  he  very 
soon  took  the  lead  in  his  class. 

When  at  home  the  boy  continued  to  spend  much  of 
his  time  in  drawing,  or  in  cutting  or  carving  with  his 
penknife,  or  in  watching  the  carpenters  at  work  in 
his  father's  shop,  sometimes  trying  his  own  hand  at 
making  little  articles  with  the  tools  which  lay  about.  In 
this  he  displayed  a  degree  of  dexterity  which  seemed  so 
remarkable  that  the  journeymen  were  accustomed  to  say 
of  him  that  "  little  Jamie  had  gotten  a  fortune  at  his 
fingers'  ends."  Even  when  he  had  grown  old  he  would 
recall  to  mind  the  pleasure  as  well  as  the  profit  which 
he  had  derived  from  working  in  his  shirt -sleeves 
in  his  father's  shop.  He  was,  in  fact,  educating  him- 
self in  the  most  effectual  manner  in  his  own  way ; 
learning  to  use  his  hands  dexterously;  familiarising 
himself  with  the  art  of  handling  tools ;  and  acquiring  a 
degree  of  expertness  in  working  with  them  in  wood 
and  metal,  which  eventually  proved  of  the  greatest 
value  to  him.  At  the  same  time  he  was  training 
himself  in  habits  of  application,  industry,  and  inven- 
tion. Most  of  his  spare  time  was  thus  devoted  to  •  me- 
chanical adaptations  of  his  own  contrivance.  A  small 
forge  was  erected  for  him,  and  a  bench  fitted  up  for  his 
special  use ;  and  there  he  constructed  many  ingenious 
little  objects,  such  as  miniature  cranes,  pulleys,  pumps, 
and  capstans.  Out  of  a  large  silver  coin  he  fabricated 
a  punch-ladle,  which  is  still  preserved.  But  the  kind 
of  work  which  most  attracted  him  was  the  repairing  of 
ships'  compasses,  quadrants,  and  nautical  instruments, 



CHAP.  V. 

in  executing  which  he  exhibited  so  much  neatness,  dex- 
terity, and  accuracy,  that  it  eventually  led  to  his  selec- 
tion of  the  business  he  determined  to  follow, — that  of  a 
mathematical  instrument  maker. 

The  boy  at  the  same  time  prosecuted  his  education  at 
\school;  his  improving  health  enabling  him  to  derive 
more  advantage  from  the  instructions  of  his  masters 
thaXin  the  earlier  part  of  his  career.  Not  the  least  in- 
fluentral  part  of  his  training,  as  regarded  the  formation 
of  his  character,  consisted,  as  already  observed,  in  the 
example  and  conversation  of  his  parents  at  home.  His 
frequent  illnesses  brought  him  more  directly  and  conti- 
nuously under  their  influence  than  is  the  case  with  most 
boys  of  his  age ;  and  reading  became  one  of  his  chief 
sources  of  recreation  and  enjoyment.  His  father's  library- 
shelf  contained  well-thumbed  volumes  of  Boston,  Bunyan, 
and  '  The  Cloud  of  Witnesses,'  with  Henry  the  Rymer's 
'  Life  of  Wallace,'  and  other  old  ballads,  tattered  by  fre- 
quent use.  These  he  devoured  greedily,  and  re-read 
until  he  had  most  of  them  by  heart.  His  father  would 
also  recount  to  him  the  sufferings  of  the  Covenanters,— 
the  moors  and  mosses  which  lay  towards  the  south  of 
Greenock  having  been  among  their  retreats  during  the 
times  of  the  persecution.  Then  there  were  the  local  and 
traditionary  stories  of  the  neighbourhood, — such  as  the 
exploits  of  the  Greenock  men  under  Sir  John  Shaw,  at 
Worcester,  in  165 1,1 — together  with  much  of  that  .un- 
written history,  heard  only  around  firesides,  which 
kindles  the  Scotchman's  nationality,  and  influences  his 
future  life. 

We  may  here  mention,  in  passing,  that  one  of  the 
most  vividly-remembered  incidents  of  James  Watt's 
boyhood  was  the  Stuart  rebellion  of  the  "  Forty-five," 

1  The  Shaw  baronetcy  was  the 
reward  of  the  feudal  superior's  ser- 
vices on  the  occasion.  The  banner 
carried  by  the  tenantry  in  the  civil 

war  was  long  preserved  in  Greenock, 
and  was  hung  up  with  the  other 
town  flags  in  one  of  the  public  rooms. 


which  occurred  when  he  was  about  ten  years  old.  Watt 
himself  is  so  intimately  identified  with  the  material  pro- 
gress of  the  nineteenth  century,  that  it  strikes  one  almost 
with  surprise  that  he  should  have  been  a  spectator,  in 
however  remote  a  degree,  of  incidents  belonging  to  an 
altogether  different  age.  The  Stuart  Rebellion  may  be 
said  to  have  been  the  end  of  one  epoch  and  the  beginning 
of  another ;  for  certain  it  is  that  the  progress  of  Scot- 
land as  an  integral  part  of  the  British  empire,  and  the 
growth  of  its  skilled  industry — which  the  inventions  of 
Watt  did  so  much  to  develop — appeared  as  if  to  spring 
from  the  very  ashes  of  the  rebellion.  Like  other  low- 
land towns,  Greenock  was  greatly  alarmed  at  the  start- 
ling news  from  the  Highlands  of  the  threatened  descent 
of  the  clans.  Sir  John  Shaw  had  the  trades  mustered 
for  drill  on  the  green  in  front  of  his  mansion,  and  held 
them  in  readiness  for  defence  of  the  town,  in  case  of 
attack.  G-reenock  was  otherwise  secure,  being  protected 
against  the  Highlands  by  the  Clyde  ;  besides,  the  western 
clans  were  either  neutral  or  adhered  to  the  house  of 
Hanover.  The  Pretender  with  his  followers  passed 
southward  by  Stirling,  and  only  approached  Greenock 
on  their  return  from  England, — a  half-starved  and  ill- 
clad,  though  still  unbroken  army.  They  halted  at  Glas- 
gow, where  they  levied  a  heavy  contribution  on  the 
inhabitants,  and  sent  out  roving  parties  to  try  their 
fortunes  in  the  neighbouring  towns.  A  small  detach- 
ment one  day  approached  Greenock,  and  came  as  near 
as  the  Clune  Brae ;  but  the  townspeople  were  afoot,  and 
on  guard ;  signal  was  given  to  the  ships  of  war  moored 
near  the  old  battery,  and  a  few  well-directed  shots 
speedily  sent  the  Highlanders  to  the  right-about.  The 
alarm  was  over  for  the  present ;  but  it  was  renewed  in 
the  following  year,  when  the  rumour  reached  Edinburgh 
that  Prince  Charles,  hunted  from  the  Highlands,  had 
landed  at  Greenock,  and  lay  concealed  there.  The  con- 
sequence was  that  a  strict  search  was  made  throughout 


the  town,  and  Mr.  Watt's  premises  were  searched  like 
the  others ;  but  the  Pretender  had  contrived  to  escape 
in  another  direction.  Such  was  one  of  the  most  memo- 
rable incidents  in  the  boy-life  of  James  Watt,  so  strangely 
in  contrast  with  the  later  events  of  his  industrial  career. 

During  holiday  times,  the  boy  sometimes  indulged 
in  rambles  along  the  Clyde,  occasionally  crossing  to  the 
north  shore,  and  strolling  up  the  Gare  Loch  and  Holy 
Loch,  and  even  as  far  as  Ben  Lomond.  He  was  of  a 
solitary  disposition,  and  loved  to  wander  by  himself  at 
night  amidst  the  wooded  pleasure-grounds  which  sur- 
rounded the  old  mansion-house  overlooking  the  town, 
watching  through  the  trees  the  mysterious  movements 
of  the  stars.  He  became  fascinated  by  the  wonders  of 
astronomy,  and  was  stimulated  to  inquire  into  the  science 
by  the  examination  of  the  nautical  instruments  which 
he  found  amongst  his  father's  shop-stores.  For  it  was 
a  peculiarity  which  characterised  him  through  life,  that 
he  could  not  look  upon  any  instrument  or  machine  with- 
out being  seized  with  a  desire  to  understand  its  mean- 
ing, to  unravel  its  mystery,  and  master  the  rationale  of 
its  uses.  Before  he  was  fifteen  he  had  twice  gone 
through  with  great  attention  S'Gravande's  'Elements 
of  Natural  Philosophy,'  a  book  belonging  to  his  father. 
He  performed  many  little  experiments  in  chemistry,  and 
even  contrived  to  make  an  electrical  machine,  much  to 
the  marvel  of  those  who  felt  its  shocks.  Like  most 
invalids,  he  read  eagerly  such  books  on  medicine  and 
surgery  as  came  in  his  way.  He  went  so  far  as  to  prac- 
tise dissection ;  and  on  one  occasion  he  was  found  carry- 
ing off  for  this  purpose  the  head  of  a  child  who  had  died 
of  some  uncommon  disease.  "  He  told  his  son,"  says 
Mr.  Muirhead,  "  that,  had  he  been  able  to  bear  the  sight 
of  the  sufferings  of  patients,  he  would  have  been  a 

In  his  solitary  rambles,  his  love  of  wild-flowers  and 
plants  lured  him  on  to  the  study  of  botany.  Ever  ob- 


servant  of  the  aspects  of  nature,  the  violent  upheavings 
of  the  mountain-ranges  on  the  north  shores  of  Loch 
Lomond  directed  his  attention  to  geology.  He  was  a 
great  devourer  of  books ;  reading  all  that  came  in  his 
way.  On  a  friend  once  advising  him  to  he  less  indis- 
criminate in  his  reading,  he  replied,  "  I  have  never  yet 
read  a  book  without  gaining  information,  instruction, 
or  amusement."  This  was  no  answer  to  the  admonition 
of  his  friend,  who  merely  recommended  him  to  bestow 
upon  the  best  books  the  time  he  devoted  to  the  worse. 
But  the  appetite  for  knowledge  in  inquisitive  minds  is, 
during  youth,  when  curiosity  is  fresh  and  unslacked,  too 
insatiable  to  be  fastidious,  and  the  volume  which  gets 
the  preference  is  usually  the  first  which  comes  in  the 

Watt  was  not,  however,  a  mere  bookworm.  In  his 
solitary  walks  through  the  country  he  would  enter  the 
cottages  of  the  peasantry,  gather  their  local  traditions, 
and  impart  to  them  information  of  a  similar  kind  from 
his  own  ample  stores.  Fishing,  which  suited  his  tranquil 
nature,  was  his  single  sport.  When  unable  to  ramble 
for  the  purpose,  he  could  still  indulge  the  pursuit  from 
his  father's  yard,  which  was  open  to  the  sea,  and  the 
water  of  sufficient  depth  at  high-tide  to  enable  vessels  of 
fifty  or  sixty  tons  to  lie  alongside. 

But  James  Watt  had  now  arrived  at  a  suitable  age  to 
learn  a  trade ;  and  his  rambles  must  come  to  a  close. 
His  father  had  originally  intended  him  to  follow  his  own 
business ;  but  having  sustained  some  heavy  losses  about 
this  time — one  of  his  ships  having  foundered  at  sea, — 
and  observing  the  strong  bias  of  his  son  towards  mani- 
pulative science  and  exact  mechanics,  he  at  length  de- 
cided to  send  him  to  Glasgow,  in  the  year  1754,  when 
he  was  eighteen  years  old,  to  learn  the  trade  of  a  mathe- 
matical instrument  maker. 


GLASGOW  IN  1754. 

CHAP.  \L 



WHEN  James  Watt,  a  youth  of  eighteen,  went  to 
Glasgow  in  1754  to  learn  his  trade,  the  place  was  very 
different  from  the  Glasgow  of  to-day.  Not  a  steam- 
engine  was  then  at  work  in  the  town ;  not  a  steam-boat 
disturbed  the  quiet  of  the  Clyde.  There  was  a  rough 
quay  along  the  Broomielaw,  then,  as  the  name  implies, 
partly  covered  with  broom.  The  quay  was  furnished 
with  a  solitary  crane,  for  which  there  was  very  little 
use,  as  the  river  was  full  of  sandbanks,  and  boats  and 
gabberts  of  only  six  tons  burden  and  under  could  then 
ascend  the  Clyde.1  Often  for  weeks  together  not  a 
single  masted  vessel  was  to  be  seen  in  the  river.  The 
principal  buildings  in  the  town  were  the  Cathedral  and 
the  University.  The  west  port,  now  in  the  centre  of 
Glasgow,  was  then  a  real  barrier  between  the  town 
and  the  country.  The  ground  on  which  Enoch-square 
stands  consisted  chiefly  of  gardens.  A  thick  wood 
occupied  the  site  of  the  present  Custom-house  and  of 
that  part  of  Glasgow  situated  behind  West  Clyde-street. 
Blythswood  was  grazing-ground.  Not  a  house  had  yet 
been  erected  in  Hutchinson-town,  Laurieston,  Tradeston, 
or  Bridge  ton.  The  land  between  Jamaica-street  on  the 
east,  and  Stobcross  on  the  west,  and  south  from  Ander- 
ston-road  to  the  river,  now  the  most  densely  populated 
parts  of  Glasgow,  consisted  of  fields  and  cabbage-gardens. 

1  According  to  Smeaton's  report  in 
1755,  there  were  in  spring  tides  only 
3  feet  8  inches  water  at  Pointhouse 
Ford.  Measures  were  taken  to  deepen 
the  river,  and  operations  with  that 
object  were  begun  in  1768.  Salmon 

abounded  in  the  Clyde,  and  was  so 
common  that  servants  and  apprentices 
were  accustomed  to  stipulate  that 
they  should  not  have  salmon  for 
dinner  more  than  a  certain  number 
of  days  in  the  week. 



The  town  had  but  two  main  streets,  which  intersected 
each  other  at  the  Cross  or  Market-place,  and  the  only 
paved  part  of  them  was  known  as  "  The  Plainstanes," 
which  extended  for  a  few  hundred  yards  in  front  of  the 
public  offices  and  the  Town-hall.  The  two  main  streets 


contained  some  stately  well-built  houses — Flemish-look- 
ing tenements  with  crow-stepped  gables, — the  lower 
stories  standing  on  Doric  columns,  under  which  were 
the  principal  booths  or  shops — small,  low-roofed,  and 
dismal.  But  the  bulk  of  the  houses  had  only  wooden 
fronts  and  thatched  roofs,  and  were  of  a  very  humble 
character.  The  traffic  along  the  unpaved  streets  was  so 
small,  that  the  carts  were  left  standing  in  them  at  night. 
?  The  town  was  as  yet  innocent  of  police  ;l  it  contained 

1  The  "  middens "  in  the  street  threatened  a  penalty  of  5s.  if  middens 
were  sometimes  complained  of  as  a  of  which  complaint  had  been  made 
nuisance;  and  in  1770,  the  magistrate  I  were  not  removed  within  48  hours. 




no  Irish  immigrants,  and  very  few  Highlanders.  The 
latter  then  thought  it  beneath  them  to  engage  in  any 
pursuit  connected  with  commerce ;  and  Eob  Roy's  con- 
tempt for  the  wabsters  of  Glasgow,  as  described  by  Sir 
Walter  Scott  in  the  novel,  was  no  exaggeration.  No 
Highland  gentleman,  however  poor,  would  dream  of 
condemning  his  son  to  the  drudgery  of  trade  ;  and  even 
the  poorest  Highland  cottar  would  shrink  with  loathing 
from  the  life  of  a  weaver  or  a  shopkeeper.  He  would 
be  a  hunter,  a  fisher,  a  cattle-lifter,  or  a  soldier ;  but 
trade  he  would  not  touch — that  he  left  to  the  Low- 

The  principal  men  of  business  in  Glasgow  at  the  time 
of  which  we  speak  were  the  tobacco  lords — importers 
of  that  article  from  the  plantations  in  Virginia,2 — who 

1  The  Highland  gentry  and  people 
regarded    the    Lowlanders    as    their 
natural    enemies,    fair    subjects     for 
plunder  at  all  times  as  opportunities 
offered.      The   Lowlanders,   on   their 
part,  regarded  the  Highlanders  very 
much   as   the    primitive    settlers    of 
North  America  regarded  the  Cherokee 
and  Chocktaw  Indians.     Sometimes  a 
band  of  uncouth  half-clad  Highland- 
men  would  suddenly  rush  down  upon 
the  Lowlands,  swoop  up  all  the  cattle 
writhin   their  reach,  and  drive   them 
off  into  the  mountains.      Hence  the 
Lowlanders  and  the  Highlanders  were 
always  in  a  state  of  feud.     Long  after 
the  '45  a  Highlandman  would  "  thank 
God  that  he  had  not  a  drop  of  Lowland 
blood  in  his  veins." 

2  The   only  trade  which   Glasgow 
carried  on  with  foreign  countries  pre- 
vious to  the  Union,  was  in  coal,  grind- 
stones,    and     fish,  —  Glasgow  -  cured 
herrings     being     in     much     repute 
abroad.    After  the  Union  partnerships 
were  formed ;  vessels  were  built  down 
the  Clyde,  and  chartered  for  carrying 
on  the  trade  with  Virginia,  Maryland, 
and  Carolina.     The  first  honest  vessel 
crossed  the  Atlantic  from  the  Clyde 
in  1719 ;  in  1735  the  Virginia  mer- 
chants in  Glasgow  had  fifteen  vessels 
engaged  in  the  trade,  and  the  town 

shortly  after  became  the  great  mart 
for  tobacco.  Of  the  90,000  hogsheads 
imported  into  the  United  Kingdom 
in  1772,  Glasgow  alone  imported 
49,000,  or  more  than  one-half.  The 
American  Revolution  had  the  effect 
of  completely  ruining  the  tobacco 
trade  of  Glasgow,  after  which  the 
merchants  were  compelled  to  turn 
to  other  fields  of  enterprise  and  in- 
dustry. The  capital  which  they  had 
accumulated  from  tobacco  enabled 
them  to  enter  -upon  their  new  un- 
dertakings with  spirit,  and  the  steam- 
engine  which  had  by  that  time  been 
invented  by  their  townsman  James 
Watt,  proved  their  best  helper  in  ad- 
vancing the  prosperity  of  modern 
Glasgow.  The  rapidity  of  its  progress 
may  be  inferred  from  the  following 
facts.  In  1735,  though  the  Glasgow 
merchants  owned  half  the  entire 
tonnage  of  Scotland,  it  amounted  to 
only  5600  tons.  In  that  year  the 
whole  shipping  of  Scotland  was  only 
one-fortieth  part  of  that  of  England : 
it  is  now  about  one-fifth.  From  1752 
to  1 770  the  total  tonnage  dues  of  the 
harbour  of  Glasgow  amounted  to  only 
147Z.,  or  equal  to  an  average  of  about 
SL  per  annum.  In  1780,  the  Clyde 
having  been  deepened  in  the  interval, 
they  reached  1515Z. ;  and  in  1854, 




were  often  to  be  seen  strutting  along  the  Plainstanes, 
dressed  in  scarlet  cloaks,  cocked  hats,  and  powdered  wigs ; 
the  "  boddies  "  who  kept  the  adjoining  shops  eying  them 
over  their  half-closed  doors,  and  humbly  watching  for  a 
nod  of  recognition  from  the  mighty  potentates.  Yet 
even  the  greatest  of  the  tobacco  lords  only  lived  in  flats, 
entering  from  a  common  stair ;  and  the  domestic  accom- 
modation was  so  scanty  and  so  primitive,  that  visitors 
were  of  necessity  received  in  the  bedrooms.  This  cir- 
cumstance seems  to  have  hac(  some  influence  in  the 
formation  of  the  Clubs,1  which  then  formed  a  curious 
feature  of  society  in  most  Scotch  towns.  They  consisted 
of  knots  of  men  of  like  tastes  and  pursuits,  who  met  in 
the  evenings  at  public-houses  for  purposes  of  gossip  and 
social  drinking.  There  they  made  new  and  cultivated 
old  acquaintanceships,  and  exchanged  news  with  each 
other.  The  Club  combined  the  uses  of  the  newspaper  and 
the  newsroom,  which  now  accomplish  the  same  objects 
without  the  drinking.  But  Glasgow  had  then  no  news- 
paper ;  and  a  London  news-sheet  of  a  week  old  was  looked 
upon  as  a  novelty.  There  was  no  coffee-room  nor  public 
library  in  the  town ;  no  theatre 2  nor  place  of  resort  open, 
except  the  "  Change-house ;"  so  that  the  Club  was  re- 
garded as  a  social  necessity.  The  drinking  was  some- 
times moderate,  and  sometimes  "  hard."  The  better  class 
confined  themselves  to  claret  and  other  French  wines, 

they  amounted  to  86,5802.  The  in- 
crease has  been  quite  as  great  in 
later  years.  In  point  of  value  of  ex- 
ports, Glasgow  ranks  fourth  among 
the  ports  of  the  United  Kingdom; 
and  Greenock  now  takes  precedence 
of  Bristol. 

1  For  many  curious  particulars  of 
Old  Glasgow  and  its  society,  see  Dr. 
Strang's  *  Glasgow  and  its  Clubs.' 

2  A  temporary  wooden  theatre  was 
run  up  in  1752,  but  the  religious  pre- 
judices of  the   population  were   vio- 
lently excited   by   the    circumstance, 
and  the  place  was  attacked  by  a  mob 

and  seriously  damaged.  The  few 
persons  who  went  there  had  to  be 
protected  from  insults.  In  1762, 
when  some  persons  proposed  to  build 
a  theatre,  not  a  single  individual  who 
had  ground  within  the  burgh  would 
grant  them  a  site.  Two  years  later 
the  theatre  was  erected  outside  the 
precincts,  and  on  the  night  on  which 
it  was  opened  it  was  wilfully  set  on 
fire  by  some  persons  instigated  by  the 
preaching  of  a  neighbouring  metho- 
dist,  when  it  narrowly  escaped  de- 

H    2 



>.  VI. 

which  were  then  cheap,  being  free  from  duty.  Those 
disposed  to  indulge  in  more  frugal  fare  confined  them- 
selves to  oat-cake  and  small-beer.  It  was  not  until 
heavy  taxes  were  laid  on  foreign  wines  arid  malt  that 
the  hard  whisky-drinking  of  Scotland  set  in.  Whisky 
was  introduced  from  the  Highlands  shortly  after  the 
"  Forty-five ;"  and  it  soon  became  the  popular  drink. 
By  1780  the  drinking  of  raw  whisky  in  Glasgow  at  mid- 
day had  become  general.1 

When  young  Watt  Arrived  in  Glasgow  he  carried 
with  him  but  a  small  quantity  of  baggage ;  the  articles 
in  his  trunk  including  amongst  other  things  a  quadrant, 
—probably  a  specimen  of  his  own  handiwork, — a  leather 
apron,  about  a  score  of  carpenters'  and  other  tools,  and 
"  a  pair  of  bibels."  On  making  inquiry  for  a  proper  mas- 
ter, under  whom  to  learn  the  business  of  mathematical 
instrument  making,  it  was  found  that  there  was  no 
such  person  in  Glasgow.  There  was,  however,  a  me- 
chanic in  the  town,  who  dignified  himself  with  the  name 
of  "  optician,"  under  whom  Watt  was  placed  for  a  time. 
He  was  a  sort  of  Jack-of-all-trades,  who  sold  and  mended 
spectacles,  repaired  fiddles,  tuned  spinets,  made  and 
repaired  the  simpler  instruments  used  in  mechanical 
drawing,  and  eked  out  a  slender  living  by  making  and 
selling  fishing-rods  and  fishing-tackle.  Watt  was  MS 
handy  at  dressing  trout  and  salmon  flies  as  at  most  other 
things,  and  his  master,  no  doubt,  found  him  useful 
enough  ;  but  there  was  nothing  to  be  learnt  in  return  for 
his  services.  Though  his  master  was  an  ingenious 
workman,  in  a  small  way,  and  could  turn  his  ready  hand 

1  When  the  Lowlanders  want  to 
drink  a  cheering  cup,  they  go  to  the 
public-house,  called  the  Change-house, 
and  call  for  a  chopin  of  twopenny, 
which  is  their  yeasty  beverage,  made 
of  malt,  not  quite  so  strong  as  the 
table-beer  of  England.  .  .  .  .  The 
Highlanders,  on  the  contrary,  despise 
the  liquor,  and  regale  themselves 

with  whisky,  or  malt  spirit,  as  strong 
as  Geneva,  which  they  swallow  in 
great  quantities,  without  any  signs  of 
inebriation :  they  are  used  to  it  from 
the  cradle,  and  find  it  an  excellent 
preservative  against  the  winter  cold, 
which  must  be  extreme  on  these 
mountains.  —  Smollett,  '  Expedition 
of  Humphry  Clinker.' 


to  anything,  it  soon  became  clear  to  Watt's  relations, 
the  Muirheads,  with  whom  he  lived  during  his  stay, 
that  the  instructions  of  such  an  artist  were  little  likely 
to  advance  him  in  mathematical  instrument  making. 
Among  the  gentlemen  to  whom  "Watt  was  introduced 
by  his  relatives  was  Dr.  Dick,  Professor  of  Natural  Phi- 
losophy in  Glasgow  College,  who  strongly  recommended 
him  to  proceed  to  London,  and  there  place  himself  under 
the  instruction  of  some  competent  master.  Watt  con- 
sulted his  father  on  the  subject,  who  readily  gave  his 
sanction  to  the  proposal ;  and,  with  a  letter  of  introduc- 
tion from  Dr.  Dick  in  his  pocket,  he  set  out  for  the  great 
city  accordingly. 

No  stage-coach  then  ran  between  Glasgow  and  Lon- 
don ;  so  it  was  determined  that  young  Watt  should  pro- 
ceed on  horseback,  then  the  most  convenient  and  speedy 
mode  of  travelling.  His  chest  was  sent  by  sea.  Old 
Mr.  Watt's  memorandum-book  at  Heathfield  contains  the 
following  entry,  under  date  the  6th  June,  1755  "*. — 

"  To  send  James  Watt's  chist  to  the  care  of  Mr.  William  Oman, 
Ventener  in  Leith,  to  be  shypt  for  London  to  ye  care  of  Captain 
\\illiam  Watson,  at  the  Hermitage,  London. 

"  Pd-  3s.  Gd.  for  wagon  carage  to  Edenbrough  of  chist. 
Pd-  to  son  James  21.  '2s. 
Pd-  Plaster  and  Pomet,  Is.  4rf. 
Pd   4  doz.  pencels,  Is.  6tf." 

The  "plaster  and  pomet"  may  possibly  have  been  pro- 
vided in  view  of  the  long  journey  on  horseback  and  its 
contingencies.  Jt  was  arranged  that  the  youth  should 
travel  in  the  company  of  a  relative,  Mr.  Marr,  a  sea- 
captain,  who  was  on  his  way  to  join  his  ship,  then  lying 
in  the  Thames.  They  set  out  on  the  7th  of  June, 
travelling  by  way  of  Coldstream  and  Newcastle,  where 
they  joined  the  great  north  road,  then  comparatively 
practicable  to  the  south  of  Durham.  They  reached 
London  safely  on  the  19th,  having  been  about  a  fort- 
night on  the  road. 


Mr.  Marr  immediately  proceeded  to  make  inquiries 
for  a  mathematical  instrument  maker  with  whom  to 
place  his  young  friend.  But  it  was  found  that  a  serious 
obstacle  presented  itself  in  the  rules  of  the  trade,  which 
prescribed  that  those  employed  must  either  be  appren- 
tices serving  under  a  seven  years'  apprenticeship,  or,  if 
journeymen,  that  they  should  have  served  for  that  term. 
Watt,  however,  had  no  intention  of  binding  himself  to 
serve  for  so  long  a  period,  and  he  had  no  pretensions 
to  rank  as  a  journeyman.  His  object  was  to  learn  the 
business  in  the  shortest  possible  time,  and  then  return 
to  Glasgow  and  set  up  for  himself.  The  two  went 
about  from  shop  to  shop,  but  only  met  with  rebuffs. 
"  I  have  not  yet  got  a  master,"  Watt  wrote  to  his  father 
about  a  fortnight  after  his  arrival ;  "we  have  tried 
several,  but  they  all  made  some  objection  or  other.  I 
find  that,  if  any  of  them  agree  with  me  at  all,  it  will 
not  be  for  less  than  a  year ;  and  even  for  that  time  they 
will  be  expecting  some  money." 

Mr.  Marr  continued  to  exert  himself  on  behalf  of  the 
youth.  Anxious  to  be  employed  in  any  way  rather 
than  not  at  all,  Watt  offered  his  services  gratuitously  to 
a  watchmaker  named  Neale,  with  whom  Mr.  Marr  did 
business,  and  he  was  allowed  to  occupy  himself  in  his 
shop  for  a  time,  cutting  letters  and  figures  in  metal.  At 
length  a  situation  of  a  more  permanent  character  was 
obtained  for  him ;  and  he  entered  the  shop  of  Mr.  John 
Morgan,  a  respectable  mathematical  instrument  maker 
in  Cornhill,  on  the  terms  of  receiving  a  year's  instruc- 
tion in  return  for  a  fee  of  twenty  guineas  and  the  pro- 
ceeds of  his  labour  during  that  time.  He  soon  proved 
himself  a  ready  learner  and  skilful  workman.  That 
division  of  labour,  the  result  of  an  extensive  trade, 
which  causes  the  best  London  carriages  to  be  superior 
to  any  of  provincial  construction,  was  even  then  applied 
to  mathematical  instruments.  "  Very  few  here,"  wrote 
Watt,  "  know  any  more  than  how  to  make  a  rule,  others 


a  pair  of  dividers,  and  such  like."  His  first  employment 
was  in  making  brass  scales,  rules,  parallels,  and  the  brass- 
work  of  quadrants  ;  and  by  the  end  of  a  month  he  was 
able  to  finish  a  Hadley's  quadrant  in  better  style  than 
any  apprentice  in  the  shop.  From  rule  and  quadrant 
making  he  proceeded  to  azimuth  compasses,  brass  sectors, 
theodolites,  and  the  more  delicate  kinds  of  instruments. 
At  the  end  of  the  year  he  wrote  home  to  his  father  that  he 
had  made  "  a  brass  sector  with  a  French  joint,  which  is 
reckoned  as  nice  a  piece  of  framing-work  as  is  in  the 
trade  ;"  and  he  expressed  the  hope  that  he  would  soon  be 
able  to  work  for  himself,  and  earn  his  bread  by  his  own 

Up  to  this  time  he  had  necessarily  been  maintained 
by  his  father,  on  whom  he  drew  from  time  to  time. 
Mr.  Watt's  memorandum-books  show  that  on  the  27th 
of  June  he  remitted  him  10£. ;  on  the  24th  of  August 
following  he  enters  :  "  Sent  George  Anderson  by  post 
SI.  to  buy  a  bill  of  7/.  or  8/.  to  send  Whey  thread  and 
Gifferd,  and  ballance  of  my  son's  bill,  21.  2,9.  3d.,  for  which 
ame  to  remite  him  more ;"  and  on  the  1 1th  September 
following,  the  balance  was  forwarded  through  the  same 
channel.  On  the  24th  October,  4£.  10s.  was  in  like 
manner  sent  to  George  Anderson  "  on  son  James's  second 
bill ;"  and  on  the  31st  December,  10/.  was  remitted,  "  to 
be  put  to  the  credit  of  son  James's  last  bill."  To  relieve 
his  father  as  much  as  possible  for  the  cost  of  his  main- 
tenance in  London,  Watt  lived  in  a  very  frugal  style, 
avoiding  all  unnecessary  expenses.  His  living  cost  him 
only  eight  shillings  a  week ;  and  he  could  not  reduce  it 
below  that,  he  wrote  to  his  father,  "  without  pinching 
his  belly."  He  also  sought  for  some  remunerative  work 
on  his  own  account ;  and  when  he  could  obtain  it  he  sat 
up  at  night  to  execute  it. 

During  Watt's  stay  in  London  he  was  in  a  great 
measure  prevented  from  stirring  abroad  by  the  hot  press 
for  sailors  which  was  then  going  on.  As  many  as  forty 


pressgangs  were  at  work,  seizing  all  able-bodied  men 
they  could  lay  hands  on.  In  one  night  they  took  not 
fewer  than  a  thousand  men.  Nor  were  the  kidnappers 
idle.  These  were  the  agents  of  the  East  India  Company, 
who  had  crimping-houses  in  different  parts  of  the 
city  for  receiving  the  men  whom  they  had  seized 
upon  for  service  in  the  Indian  army.  Even  when  the 
demand  for  soldiers  abated,  the  kidnappers  continued 
their  trade,  and  sold  their  unhappy  victims  to  the 
planters  in  Pennsylvania  and  other  North  American 
colonies.  Sometimes  severe  fights  took  place  between 
the  pressgangs  and  the  kidnappers  for  possession  of 
those  who  had  been  seized,  the  law  and  police  being 
apparently  powerless  to  protect  them.  "  They  now 
press  anybody  they  can  get,"  Watt  wrote  in  the  spring 
of  1756,  "landsmen  as  well  as  seamen,  except  it  be  in 
the  liberties  of  the  city,  where  they  are  obliged  to  carry 
them  before  the  Lord  Mayor  first ;  and  unless  one  be 
either  a  prentice  or  a  creditable  tradesman,  there  is 
scarce  any  getting  off  again.  And  if  I  was  carried 
before  my  Lord  Mayor,  I  durst  not  avow  that  1  wrought 
in  the  city,  it  being  against  their  laws  for.  any  unfree- 
man  to  work  even  as  a  journeyman  within  the  liberties." J 
What  a  curious  glimpse  does  this  give  us  into  the  prac- 
tice of  man-hunting  in  London  in  the  eighteenth  century ! 
Watt's  enforced  confinement,  together  with  his  se- 
dentary habits  and  unremitting  labour,  soon  told  upon 
his  weak  frame.  When  he  hurried  to  his  lodgings  at 
night,  his  body  was  wearied,  and  his  nerves  exhausted, 
so  that  his  hands  shook  like  those  of  an  old  man ;  yet 
he  persevered  with  the  extra  work  which  he  imposed 
upon  himself,  in  order  to  earn  a  little  honest  money  to 
help  to  pay  for  his  living.  His  seat  in  Mr.  Morgan's 
shop  being  placed  close  to  the  door,  which  was  often 
opened  and  shut  in  the  course  of  the  day,  he  caught 

Letter  to  his  lather  quoted  in  Mini-head's  '  Life  of  Watt,'  p.  ol). 


a  severe  cold  in  the  course  of  the  winter ;  and  he  was 
afflicted  by  a  racking  cough  and  severe  rheumatic  pains, 
from  the  effects  of  which  he  long*  continued  to  suffer. 
Distressed  by  a  gnawing  pain  in  his  back,  and  greatly 
depressed  in  spirits,  he  at  length,  with  his  father's 
sanction,  determined  to  return  to  Greenock,  to  seek 
for  renewal  of  health  in  his  native  air.  His  father  made 
him  a  further  remittance  to  enable  him  to  purchase 
some  of  the  tools  required  for  his  trade,  together  with 
materials  for  making  others,  and  a  copy  of  Bioii's  work 
on  the  construction  and  use  of  Mathematical  Instru- 
ments. Having  secured  these,  he  set  out  on  his  return 
journey  for  Scotland,  and  reached  Greenock  in  safety  in 
the  autumn  of  1756.  There  his  health  soon  became 
sufficiently  restored  to  enable  him  to  return  to  work; 
and  with  the  concurrence  and  help  of  his  father,  he 
shortly  after  proceeded  to  Glasgow,  in  his  twentieth 
year,  to  begin  business  on  his  own  account. 

In  endeavouring  to  establish  himself  in  his  trade, 
Watt  encountered  the  same  obstacle  which  in  London 
had  almost  prevented  his  learning  it.  Although  there 
were  no  mathematical  instrument  makers  in  Glasgow, 
and  it  must  have  been  a  public  advantage  to  have  so 
skilled  a  mechanic  settled  in  the  place,  Watt  was  opposed 
by  the  corporation  of  hammermen  on  the  ground  that 
he  was  neither  the  son  of  a  burgess  nor  had  served  an 
apprenticeship  within  the  borough.1  Failing  in  his 
endeavours  to  open  a  place  of  business,  he  next  tried  to 
prevail  on  the  corporation  to  allow  him  to  make  use  of 
a  small  workshop  wherein  to  make  experiments;  but 

1  The  following  "  letter  of  Guildry  "      burgh,  as  they  shall  think  fit,  ay  and 

while  the  said  unfreemen  be  put  off 

embodied  the  local  regulations  which 
existed  for  the  purpose  of  preventing 
"  loss  and  skaith "  to  the  burgesses 
and  craftsmen  of  Glasgow  by  the  in- 
trusion of  "  strangers  " : — "  The  Dean 
of  Guild  and  his  Council  shall  have 

put  off 

the  town,  and  restrained,  or  else  be 
made  free  with  the  town  and  their 
crafts ;  and  sic  like,  to  pursue,  upon 
the  judges  competent,  all  persons 
dwelling  within  this  burgh,  and  usurp- 

full  power  to  discharge,  punish,  and  ing  the  liberty  thereof,  obtain  dicrets 
unlaw  all  persons,  unfreemen,  using  against  them,  and  cause  the  same  to 
the  liberty  of  a  freeman  within  the1  be  put  to  speedy  execution." 



this  also  was  peremptorily  refused.  The  hammermen 
were  doubtless  acting  in  a  very  narrow  spirit,  in  thus 
excluding  the  young  mechanic  from  the  privileges  of 
citizenship ;  but  such  was  the  custom  of  the  times,— 
those  who  were  within  the  favoured  circles  usually 
putting  their  shoulders  together  to  exclude  those  who 
were  without.  Watt  had,  however,  already  been  em- 
ployed by  Dr.  Dick,  Professor  of  Natural  Philosophy,  to 
repair  some  mathematical  instruments  which  had  been 
bequeathed  to  the  University  by  a  gentleman  in  the  West 
Indies ;  and  the  professors,  having  an  absolute  authority 
within  the  area  occupied  by  the  college  buildings,  deter- 
mined to  give  him  an  asylum  there,  and  thus  free  him 
from  the  incubus  of  the  guilds. 

In  the  heart  of  old  Glasgow  city,  not  far  from  the 
cathedral  of  St.  Mungo,  which  Knox  with  difficulty  pre- 
served from  the  fury  of  the  Scotch  iconoclasts,  stands 
the  venerable  University,  a  curiously  black  and  sombre 
building,  more  than  400  years  old.  Inside  the  entrance, 
on  the  right-hand  side,  is  a  stone  staircase,  guarded 
by  fabulous  beasts  in  stone.  The  buildings  consist  of 
several  quadrangles  ;  but  there  is  not  much  regularity  in 
their  design,  each  part  seeming  to  stand  towards  the  other 






parts,  in  a  state  of  independent  crookedness  and  irregu- 
larity. There  are  turrets  in  the  corners  of  the  quad- 
rangles,— turrets  with  peaked  tops,  like  witches'  caps. 
In  the  inner  quadrangle,  entered  from  the  left-hand  side 
of  the  outer  court,  a  workshop  was  found  for  our  mecha- 
nician, in  which  he  was  securely  established  by  the 
midsummer  of  1757.  The  apartment  appropriated  to 
Watt  by  the  professors  is  still  to  be  seen  in  nearly  the 
same  rude  state  in  which  he  left  it.  It  is  situated  on 
the  first  floor  of  the  range  of  building  forming  the  north- 
west side  of  the  inner  quadrangle,  immediately  under 
the  gallery  of  the  Natural  Philosophy  class,  with  which 
it  communicates.  It  is  lighted  by  three  windows,  two 
of  which  open  into  the  quadrangle,  and  the  third,  at  the 
back,  into  the  Professors'  court.  There  is  a  small  closet 
in  the  corner  of  the  room,  where  some  students  have 
cut  their  names  in  the  plaster, — date  "1713."  The 
access  to  the  room  used  to  be  from  the  court  by  a  spiral 
stone  staircase ;  but  that  entrance  is  now  closed.  The 
apartment  is  only  about  twenty  feet  square  ;  but  it  served 
Watt,  as  it  has  since  served  others,  for  high  thinking 
and  noble  working.1 

In  addition  to  his  workshop  under  the  Natural  Phi- 
losophy class,  a  shop  for  the  sale  of  his  instruments  was 
also  appropriated  to  Watt  by  the  Professors.  It  formed 
the  ground-floor  of  the  house  situated  next  to  the  Prin- 
cipal's Gate,  being  part  of  the  University  Buildings,  and 
was  entered  directly  from  the  pavement  of  the  High 
Street.  It  has  been  described  to  us,  on  the  authority  of 
Professor  Fleming,  as  an  old  house,  with  a  sort  of  arcade 
in  front,  supported  on  pillars.  In  making  some  altera- 
tions in  the  building  the  pillars  were  too  much  weakened, 
and  the  house,  excepting  the  basement,  had  to  be  taken 

1  When  we  visited  the  room  some 
years  since,  we  found  laid  there  the 
galvanic  apparatus  employed  by  Pro- 
fessor Thomson  for  perfecting  the 

invention  of  his  delicate  process  of 
signalling  through  the  wires  of  the 
Atlantic  Telegraph. 




down.  The  shop  occupied  by  Watt  is  the  little  tenement 
shown  on  the  right  hand  of  the  following  engraving ; 
but  the  lower  story  of  the  building  has  since  been  altered 
and  repaired,  and  is  now  totally  different  from  what  it 
was  in  Watt's  time. 


Though  his  wants  were  few,  and  he  lived  on  humble 
fare,  Watt  found  it  very  difficult  to  earn  a  subsistence 
by  his  trade.  His  father  sent  him  remittances  from 
time  to  time  ;  but  the  old  man  had  suffered  serious  losses 
in  his  own  business,  and  had  become  much  less  able  to 
help  his  son  with  money.  After  a  year's  trial,  Watt  wrote 
to  his  father,  that  "  unless  it  be  the  Hadley's  instru- 
ments there  is  little  to  be  got  by  it,  as  at  most  other  jobs 
I  am  obliged  to  do  the  most  of  them  myself;  and,  as 

1  The  illustration  does  not  show  the 
Inner  Quadrangle,  situated  to  the  left 
of  the  Main  Court,  that  part  of  the 

building  having  been  added  since  the 
view  was  published. 




it  is  impossible  tor  one  person  to  be  expert  at  every- 
thing, they  often  cost  me  more  time  than  they  should 
do."  Of  the  quadrants,  he  could  make  three  in  a  week, 
with  the  help  of  a  lad ;  but  the  profit  upon  the  three 
was  not  more  than  40<S'.  The  customers  for  these  were 
very  few  in  number,  as  seagoing  ships  with  their  cap- 
tains could  not  yet  reach  Glasgow.1 

Failing  sufficient  customers  for  his  instruments,  Watt 
sent  those  which  he  had  made  to  Port  Glasgow  and 
Greenock,  where  his  father  helped  him  to  dispose  of 
them.  He  also  bethought  him  of  taking  a  journey  to 
Liverpool  and  London,  for  the  purpose  of  obtaining 
orders  for  instruments ;  though,  for  some  reason  or 
other — most  probably  because  he  was  averse  to  "  push- 
ing," and  detested  the  chaffering  of  trade — his  con- 
templated journey  was  not  undertaken.  He  therefore 
continued  to  execute  only  such  orders  as  came  to  him, 
so  that  his  business  remained  very  small.  He  began  to 
fear  that  he  must  give  up  the  trade  that  would  not  keep 
him,  and  he  wrote  to  his  father  :  "  If  this  business  does 
not  succeed,  1  must  fall  into  some  other."  To  eke  out 
his  income,  he  took  to  map  and  chart  selling,  and, 
amongst  other  things,  offered  for  sale  the  Map  of  the 
River  Clyde,2  originally  surveyed  by  his  uncle  John. 

It  is  well  for  the  world  at  large  that  Watt's  maps  and 
quadrants  remained  on  his  hands  unsold.  The  most 
untoward  circumstances  in  life  have  often  the  happiest 

1  The  author  of  '  Glasgow,  Past 
and  Present '  thus  writes : —  "  Last 
week  (Nov.  1851)  I  was  crossing  the 
ferry  at  the  west  end  of  Tradeston, 
and  in  the  course  of  our  passage  over 
we  turned  round  the  bow  of  a  large 
ship.  The  ferryman,  looking  up  to 
her  leviathan  bulwarks,  exclaimed, 
'  She  came  up  here  yesterday,  draw- 
ing eighteen  feet  water ! '  Now,  upon 
this  very  spot  seventy  years  ago, 
when  a  very  little  boy,  I  waded  across 
the  river,  my  feet  never  being  oft'  the 
ground,  and  the  water  not  reaching 
above  my  arm-pits.  The  depth  at 

that  time  could  not  have  been  much 
more  than  three  feet." 

2  The  «  Glasgow  Courant '  of  Oct. 
22,  1759,  contains  the  following  ad- 
vertisement : — 

"  Just  Published, 
"  And  to  be  Sold  by  James  Watt,  at  his  Shop 

in  the  College  ot  Glasgow,  price  Is.  (id., 
"  A  large  Sheet  Map  of  the  River  Clyde, 

from  Glasgow    to    Portincross,    from   an 

Actual  Survev. 

"  To  which  is  added, 

"  A  Draught  of  Part  of  the  North  Channel, 
with  the  Frith  of  Clyde  according  to  the 
best  authorities." 




results.  It  is  not  Fortune  that  is  blind,  but  man.  Had 
his  instrument-making  business  prospered,  Watt  might 
have  become  known  as  a  first-class  maker  of  quadrants, 
but  not  as  the  inventor  of  the  condensing  steam-engine. 
It  was  because  his  own  special  business  failed  that  he 
was  driven  to  betake  himself  to  other  pursuits,  and 
eventually  to  prosecute  the  invention  on  which  his  fame 
mainly  rests.  At  first  he  employed  part  of  his  leisure  in 
making  chemical  and  other  experiments ;  but  as  these 
yielded  him  no  returns  in  the  shape  of  money,  he  was 
under  the  necessity  of  making  some  sort  of  article  that 
was  in  demand,  and  for  which  he  could  find  customers. 
Although  he  had  no  ear  for  music,  and  scarcely  knew 
one  note  from  another,  he  followed  the  example  of  the 
old  spectacle-maker,  his  first  master,  in  making  fiddles, 
flutes,  and  guitars,  which  met  with  a  readier  sale  than 
his  quadrants.  These  articles  were  what  artists  call 
"pot-boilers,"  and  kept  him  in  funds  until  a  main- 
tenance could  be  earned  by  higher-class  work.  We  are 
informed,  through  a  lady  at  Glasgow,  that  her  father 
bought  a  flute  from  Watt,  who  said  to  him,  in  selling  it : 
"  Woe  be  to  ye,  Tarn,  if  you're  no  guid  luck  ;  for  this  is 
the  first  I've  sold!" 

His  friend  Dr.  Black,  probably  to  furnish  him  with 
some  profitable  employment,  asked  Watt  to  make  a  barrel- 
organ  for  him,  which  he  at  once  proceeded  to  construct. 
Watt  was  not  the  man  to  refuse  work  of  any  kind 
requiring  the  exercise  of  constructive  skill.  He  first 
carefully  •  studied  the  principles  of  harmony, — making 
science,  in  a  measure,  the  substitute  for  want  of  ear,1 
and  took  for  his  guide  the  profound  but  obscure  work  on 
6  Harmonics,'  published  by  Dr.  R.  Smith  of  Cambridge. 
He  next  made  a  model  of  the  instrument ;  after  which 
he  constructed  the  organ,  which,  wiien  finished,  was 
considered  a  great  success.  About  the  same  time  the 

1  General  T.  Perronet  Thompson 
is  another  remarkable  instance  of  a 
person  without  ear  for  music,  who 

has  mastered  the  principles  of  har- 
mony and  applied  them  in  the  inven- 
tion of  his  "  Enharmonic  Organ." 




office-bearers  of  a  Mason's  Lodge  in  Glasgow  sent  to  ask 
him  if  he  would  undertake  to  build  for  them  a  finger- 
organ.  As  he  had  sucessfully  repaired  an  instrument 
of  the  same  kind,  besides  making  the  barrel-organ,  he 
readily  accepted  the  order.  Watt  was  always,  as  he 
said,  dissatisfied  with  other  people's  work,  as  well  as 
his  own ;  and  this  habit  of  his  mind  made  him  study 
to  improve  upon  whatever  came  before  him.  Thus,  in 
the  process  of  building  this  organ,  he  devised  a  number 
of  novel  expedients,  such  as  a  sustained  monochord,  indi- 
cators and  regulators  of  the  strength  of  the  blast,  means 
of  tuning  the  instrument  according  to  any  system  of 
temperament,  with  sundry  contrivances  for  improving 
the  efficiency  of  the  stops.  The  qualities  of  the  organ 
when  finished  are  said  to  have  elicited  the  surprise  and 
admiration  of  musicians.1 

The  leisure  time  which  Watt  did  not  occupy  with 
miscellaneous  work  of  this  sort,  he  spent  in  reading.  He 
did  not  want  for  books,  as  the  College  library  was  near 
at  hand ;  and  the  professors  as  well  as  students  were 
willing  to  lend  him  from  their  stores.  He  was  not  afraid 
of  solid,  heavy,  dry  books,  provided  he  could  learn  some- 
thing from  them.  All  were  alike  welcome  ;  and  one  of 
his  greatest  pleasures  was  in  devouring  a  novel,  when  it 

1  Watt  seems  to  have  made  other 
organs  besides  those  above  mentioned. 
Not  long  since  a  barrel-organ  of  his 
construction  was  offered  for  sale  at 
Glasgow.  It  was  originally  in  the 
form  of  a  table,  about  three  feet  square, 
having  no  appearance  of  a  musical 
instrument  externally.  At  this  table, 
when  Watt  and  his  friends  were 
seated,  he  would  set  the  concealed 
mechanism  in  action,  and  surprise 
them  with  the  production  of  the 
music.  It  has  since  been  mounted 
with  an  organ  front  and  sides,  with 
gilt  pipes.  When  in  proper  tune  it 
is  of  considerable  power  and  pleasing 
harmony ;  and  continues  orthodox  in 
its  psalm  tunes,  which  range  from 
"  Martyrs  "  to  the  "  Old  Hundred."  A 
correspondent  writes  as  follows : — 

"  A  large  organ  made  and  used  by 
Watt  when  he  had  his  shop  in 
Glasgow,  was  disposed  of  by  him, 
when  he  finally  left  this  city.  It 
came  into  the  possession  of  the  late 
Mr.  Archibald  M'Lellan,  coach- 
builder,  Miller  Street,  Glasgow,  and 
he  had  it  fitted  up  in  his  elegant 
residence  in  that  fine  old  street.  I 
have  heard  it  played  by  Mr.  M'Lellan. 
After  his  death  it  was  sold,  and  pur- 
chased by  Mr.  James  G.  Adam  of  the 
Denny  print-works.  Mr.  Adam  died, 
and  the  organ  was  advertised  for  sale, 
in  1864,  and  purchased  for  10Z.,  by 
Adam  Sim,  Esq.,  of  Coulter  Mains,  in 
whose  possession  it  now  is.  Mr.  Sim 
has  authentic  documents  to  prove  that 
this  organ  was  really  James  Watt's." 



CHAP.  A'!. 

fell  in  his  way.  He  is  even  said  to  have  occupied  him- 
self in  writing  tales  and  verses  when  he  had  nothing 
else  to  do.  As  none  of  his  attempts  have  been  preserved, 
we  cannot  offer  an  opinion  upon  them ;  but  it  is  doubtful 
whether  Watt's  poetry  and  fiction  would  display  the 
same  originality  and  power  of  invention  as  his  steam- 
engine.  The  only  youthful  exercises  of  his  which  have 
been  preserved  are  anything  but  poetical.  One  of  them, 
at  Heathfield,  is  a  4  Treatise  on  Practical  Megethometry  ;' 
and  another  is  a  '  Compendium  of  Definitions,'  in  Latin, 
by  Gerard  de  Yries,  both  written  in  a  neat  round  hand. 

Like  most  of  the  Glasgow  citizens  of  that  time,  Watt 
occasionally  visited  his  club,  where  he  cultivated  the 
society  of  men  of  greater  culture  and  experience  than 
himself.1  As  he  afterwards  observed  to  a  friend,  "  Our 
conversations  then,  besides  the  usual  subjects  with  young 
men,  turned  principally  on  literary  topics,  religion, 
morality,  belles-lettres,  &c. ;  and  to  those  conversations 
my  mind  owed  its  first  bias  towards  such  subjects,  in 
which  they  were  all  much  my  superiors,  I  never  having 
attended  a  college,  and  being  then  but  a  mechanic." 

There  was  another  circumstance  connected  with  his 
situation  at  this  time  which  must  have  been  peculiarly 
agreeable  to  a  young  man  of  his  character,  aspirations, 
and  thirst  for  knowledge.  •  His  shop,  being  conveniently 
situated  within  the  College,  was  a  favourite  resort  of 
the  professors  and  the  students.  They  were  attracted 
by  the  ingenious  instruments  and  models  which  the  shop 
contained,  and  the  pleasure  always  felt  in  witnessing 
the  proceedings  of  a  skilful  mechanic  at  his  work, 

1  The  club  he  frequented  was 
called  the  Anderston  Club,  of  which 
Mr.  (afterwards  Professor)  Millar, 
Dr.  Robert  Simson,  the  mathema- 
tician, Dr.  Adam  Smith,  Dr.  Black, 
and  Dr.  Cullen,  were  members.  The 
standing  dish  of  the  club  was  hen- 
broth,  consisting  of  a  decoction  of 
"  how-towdies "  (fowls),  thickened 

with  black  beans,  and  seasoned  with 
pepper.  Dr.  Strang  says  Professor 
Simson  was  in  the  habit  of  counting 
the  steps  from  his  house  to  the  club, 
so  that  he  could  tell  the  distance  to 
the  fraction  of  an  inch.  But  it  is  not- 
stated  whether  he  counted  the  steps 
on  his  return,  and  found  the  number 
of  steps  the  same. 




but  more  particularly  by  the  easy,  unaffected,  and  ori- 
ginal conversation  of  Watt  himself.  Though  a  com- 
parative youth,  the  professors  were  usually  glad  to 
consult  him  on  points  of  mechanical  knowledge  and 
practice ;  and  the  acuteness  of  his  observation,  the 
accuracy  of  his  knowledge,  and  the  readiness  with 
which  he  communicated  what  he  knew,  soon  rendered 
him  a  general  favourite.  Among  his  most  frequent 
visitors  were  Dr.  Joseph  Black,  the  distinguished  pro- 
fessor of  chemistry,  who  there  contracted  a  friendship 
with  Watt  which  lasted,  uninterrupted,  for  a  period  of 
forty  years,  until  the  Doctor's  death  ;  Professor  Sim- 
son,  one  of  the  most  eminent  men  of  his  day,  whom 
Lord  Brougham  has  described  as  the  restorer  of  the 
science  of  geometry ;  Dr.  Dick,  the  Professor  of  Natural 
Philosophy ;  and  Professor  Anderson.1  Dr.  Moor  and 
Dr.  Adam  Smith  were  also  frequent  callers.  But  of  all 
Watt's  associates,  none  is  more  closely  connected  with 
his  name  and  history  than  John  Robison,  then  a  student 
at  Glasgow  College,  and  afterwards  Professor  of  Natural 
Philosophy  at  Edinburgh. 

Robison  was  nearer  Watt's  age  than  the  rest,  and 
stood  in  the  intimate  relation  to  him  of  bosom  friend, 
as  well  as  fellow  inquirer  in  science.  He  was  handsome 
and  prepossessing  in  appearance,  frank  and  lively,  full 
of  fancy  and  humour,  and  a  general  favourite  in  the 
College.  He  was  a  capital  talker,  an  accomplished 
linguist,  and  a  good  musician ;  yet,  with  all  his  versa- 
tility, he  was  a  profound  thinker  and  a  diligent  student, 

1  John  Anderson  was  a  native  of 
Greenock,  and  an  intimate  friend  of 
James  Watt.  He  was  appointed  pro- 
fessor of  Hebrew  in  his  twenty-seventh 
year,  and  succeeded  Dr.  Dick  as  pro- 
fessor of  Natural  Philosophy  in  1757. 
AVatt  spent  many  of  his  evenings  at 
his  residence  within  the  College,  and 
had  the  free  use  of  his  excellent  pri- 
vate library.  Professor  Anderson  is 
entitled  to  the  honour  of  being  the 

first  to  open  classes  for  the  instruc- 
tion of  working  men  —  "  anti-toga 
classes,"  as  he  called  them — in  the 
principles  of  Natural  Philosophy ; 
and  at  his  death  he  bequeathed  his 
property  for  the  purpose  of  founding 
an  institution  with  the  same  object. 
The  Andersonian  University  was 
opened  in  1796,  long  before  the  age 
of  Mechanics'  Institutes. 


especially  in  mathematical  and  mechanical  science,  as 
he  afterwards  proved  in  his  elaborate  '  System  of 
Mechanical  Philosophy/  edited  by  Sir  David  Brewster, 
and  his  many  able  contributions  to  the  '  Encyclopaedia 
Britannica,'  of  which  he  was  the  designer  and  editor. 

Robison's  introduction  to  Watt  has  been  described 
by  himself.  After  feasting  his  eyes  on  the  beautifully- 
finished  instruments  in  his  shop,  Robison  entered  into 
conversation  with  him.  Expecting  to  find  only  a  work- 
man, he  was  surprised  to  discover  a  philosopher.  "  I 
had  the  vanity,"  says  Robison,  "  to  think  myself  a  pretty 
good  proficient  in  my  favourite  study  (mathematical 
and  mechanical  philosophy),  and  was  rather  mortified 
at  finding  Mr.  Watt  so  much  my  superior.  But  his 
own  high  relish  for  these  things  made  him  pleased 
with  the  chat  of  any  person  who  had  the  same  tastes 
with  himself;  and  his  innate  complaisance  made  him 
indulge  my  curiosity,  and  even  encourage  my  en- 
deavours to  form  a  more  intimate  acquaintance  with 
him.  I  lounged  much  about  him,  and,  I  doubt  not, 
was  frequently  teasing  him.  Thus  our  acquaintance 

In  Watt's  workshop  also,  Robison  first  met  Dr.  Black, 
and  there  initiated  a  friendship  which  ended  only  with 
death.  "  My  first  acquaintance  with  him,"  Robison 
afterwards  wrote  Watt,  "  began  in  your  rooms  when 
you  were  rubbing  up  Macfarlane's  instruments.  He 
used  to  come  in,  and,  standing  with  his  back  to  us, 
amuse  himself  with  Bird's  quadrant,  whistling  softly  to 
himself,  in  a  manner  that  thrilled  me  to  the  heart." 

In  1757  Robison  applied  for  the  office  of  assistant  to 
Dr.  Dick,  Professor  of  Natural  Philosophy,  in  the 
place  of  the  son  of  that  gentleman,  who  had  just  died ; 
but  though  he  had  already  taken  the  degree  of  Master 
of  Arts,  he  was  thought  too  young  to  hold  so  important 
an  office,  being  only  about  nineteen  years  old.  His 
friends  wished  him  to  study  for  the  church ;  but,  pre- 


ferring  some  occupation  in  which  his  mechanical  tastes 
might  be  indulged,  he  turned  his  eyes  to  London.  Fur- 
nished with  letters  from  Professor  Dick  and  Dr.  Simson, 
he  obtained  an  introduction  to  Admiral  Knowles,  who 
engaged  him  to  take  charge  of  his  son's  instruction 
while  at  sea.  In  that  capacity  he  sailed  from  Spithead 
in  1759,  with  the  fleet  which  assisted  the  land  forces  in 
the  taking  of  Quebec ;  he  and  his  pupil  being  rated  as 
midshipmen  in  the  Admiral's  ship.  Eobison  was  on 
duty  in  the  boat  which  carried  Wolfe  to  the  point 
where  the  army  scaled  the  heights  of  Montcalm  the 
night  before  the  battle ;  and  as  the  sun  was  setting  in 
the  west,  the  General,  doubtless  from  an  association  of 
ideas  suggested  by  the  dangers  of  the  coming  struggle, 
recited,  in  an  under  tone,  Gray's  '  Elegy  on  a  Country 
Churchyard ; '  and  when  he  had  finished,  said,  "  Now, 
gentlemen,  I  would  rather  have  been  the  author  of  that 
poem  than  take  Quebec." 

When  Robison  returned  from  his  voyagings  in  1763, 
a  travelled  man, — having  had  the  advantage,  during 
his  absence,  of  acting  as  confidential  assistant  of  Admiral 
Knowles  in  his  marine  surveys  and  observations,— he 
reckoned  himself  more  than  on  a  par  with  Watt ;  but 
he  soon  found  that,  during  the  period  of  his  absence 
from  Glasgow,  his  friend  had  been  even  busier  than  him- 
self. When  they  entered  into  conversation,  he  found 
Watt  continually  striking  into  new  paths  where  he  was 
obliged  to  be  his  follower.  The  extent  of  the  mathe- 
matical instrument  maker's  investigations  was  no  less 
remarkable  than  the  depth  to  which  he  had  pursued 
them.  Not  only  had  he  mastered  the  principles  of 
engineering,  civil  and  military,  but  diverged  into 
studies  in  antiquity,  natural  history,  languages,  criti- 
cism, and  art.  Every  pursuit  became  science  in  his 
hands,  and  he  made  use  of  his  subsidiary  knowledge 
for  the  purpose  of  helping  him  towards  his  favourite 


Before  long,  Watt  became  to  be  regarded  as  one  of 
the  ablest  men  about  college.  u  When  to  the  supe- 
riority of  knowledge  in  his  own  line,"  said  Robison, 
"  which  every  man  confessed,  there  was  joined  the 
iia'ive  simplicity  and  candour  of  his  character,  it  is 
no  wonder  that  the  attachment  of  his  acquaintances 
was  so  strong.  I  have  seen  something  of  the  world," 
he  continued,  "  and  I  am  obliged  to  say  that  I  never 
saw  such  another  instance  of  general  and  cordial 
attachment  to  a  person  whom  all  acknowledged  to 
be  their  superior.  But  this  superiority  was  concealed 
under  the  most  amiable  candour,  and  liberal  allowance 
of  merit  to  every  man.  Mr.  Watt  was  the  first  to 
ascribe  to  the  ingenuity  of  a  friend  things  which 
were  very  often  nothing  but  his  own  surmises  followed 
out  and  embodied  by  another.  I  am  well  entitled 
to  say  this,  and  have  often  experienced  it  in  my 
own  case." 

There  are  few  traits  in  biography  more  charming 
than  this  generous  recognition  of  merit  mutually 
attributed  by  the  one  friend  to  the  other.  Arago, 
in  quoting  the  words  of  Robison,  has  well  observed  that 
it  is  difficult  to  determine  whether  the  honour  of  having 
thus  recorded  them  be  not  as  great  as  that  of  having 
inspired  them. 


PROFESSOR  ROBISON.  Mt.   60.     [By  T.  D    Scott,   after  Raeburn.] 




IT  was  in  the  year  1759  that  Robison  first  called  the 
attention  of  his  friend  Watt  to  the  subject  of  the  steam- 
engine.  Robison  was  then  only  in  his  twentieth,  and 
Watt  in  his  twenty-third  year.  Robison's  idea  was 
that  the  power  of  steam  might  be  advantageously 
applied  to  the  driving  of  wheel-carriages,  and  he  sug- 
gested that  it  would  be  the  most  convenient  for  the 
purpose  to  place  the  cylinder  with  its  open  end  down- 
wards to  avoid  the  necessity  of  using  a  working  beam. 
Watt  admits  that  he  was  very  ignorant  of  the  steam- 
engine  at  the  time ;  nevertheless,  he  began  making  a 
model  with  two  cylinders  of  tinplate,  intending  that 
the  pistons  and  their  connecting-rods  should  act 
alternately  on  two  pinions  attached  to  the  axles  of  the 
carriage-wheels.  But  the  model,  being  slightly  and  in- 
accurately made,  did  not  answer  his  expectations.  Other 
difficulties  presented  themselves,  and  the  scheme  was 
laid  aside  on  Robison  leaving  Glasgow  to  go  to  sea. 
Indeed,  mechanical  science  was  not  yet  ripe  for  the 
locomotive.  Robison's  idea  had,  however,  dropped 
silently  into  the  mind  of  his  friend,  where  it  grew  from 
day  to  day,  slowly  and  at  length  fruitfully. 

At  his  intervals  of  leisure  and  in  the  quiet  of  his 
evenings,  Watt  continued  to  prosecute  his  various 
studies.  He  was  shortly  attracted  by  the  science  of 
chemistry,  then  in  its  infancy.  Dr.  Black  was  at  that 
time  occupied  with  the  investigations  which  led  to  his 
discovery  of  the  theory  of  latent  heat,  and  it  is  probable 




that  his  familiar  conversations  with  Watt  on  the  sub- 
ject induced  the  latter  to  enter  upon  a  series  of  experi- 
ments with  the  view  of  giving  the  theory  some  practical 
direction.  His  attention  again  and  again  reverted  to 
the  steam-engine,  though  he  had  not  yet  seen  even  a 
model  of  one.  Steam  was  as  yet  almost  unknown  in 
Scotland  as  a  working  power.  The  first  engine  was 
erected  at  Elphinstone  Colliery,  in  Stirlingshire,  about 
the  year  1750 ;  and  the  second  more  than  ten  years 
later,  at  Grovan  Colliery,  near  Glasgow,  where  it  was 
known  by  the  startling  name  of  "The  Firework." 
This  had  not,  however,  been  set  up  at  the  time  Watt 
began  to  inquire  into  the  subject.  But  he  found  that 
the  College  possessed  the  model  of  a  Newcomen  engine 
for  the  use  of  the  Natural^  Philosophy  class,  which  had 
been  sent  to  London  for  repair.  On  hearing  of  its 
existence,  he  suggested  to  his  friend  Dr.  Anderson,  Pro- 
fessor of  Natural  Philosophy,  the  propriety  of  getting 
back  the  model ;  and  a  sum  of  money  was  placed  by 
the  Senatus  at  the  Professor's  disposal  "  to  recover  the 
steam-engine  from  Mr.  Sisson,  instrument  maker,  in 

In  the  mean  time  Watt  sought  to  learn  all  that  had 
been  written  on  the  subject  of  the  steam-engine.  He 
ascertained  from  Desaguliers,  from  Switzer,  and  other 
writers,  what  had  been  accomplished  by  Savery, 
Newcomen,  Beighton,  and  others :  and  he  went  on 
with  his  own  independent  experiments.  His  first 
apparatus  was  of  the  simplest  possible  kind.  He  used 
common  apothecaries  phials  for  his  steam  reservoirs, 
and  canes  hollowed  out  for  his  steam  pipes.1  In  1761 

1  At  a  meeting  held  in  Glasgow  in 
1839  to  erect  a  monument  to  Watt, 
Dr.  Ure  observed :  —  "As  to  the 
latent  heat  of  steam,"  said  Mr.  Watt 
to  me,  "  it  was  a  piece  of  knowledge 
essential  to  my  inquiries,  and  I 
worked  it  out  myself  in  the  best  way 
that  I  could.  I  used  apothecaries' 

phials  for  my  apparatus,  and  by 
means  of  them  I  got  approximations 
sufficient  for  my  purpose  at  the 
time."  The  passage  affords  a  striking 
illustration  of  the  large  results  that 
may  be  arrived  at  by  means  of  the 
humblest  instruments.  In  like  manner 
Cavendish,  when  asked  by  a  foreigner 





he  proceeded  to  experiment  on  the  force  of  steam  by 
of  a  small  Papin's  digester  and  a  syringe. 
The  syringe  was  only  the  third  of  an  inch 
in  diameter,  fitted  with  a  solid  piston ; 
and  it  was  connected  with  the  digester 
by  a  pipe  furnished  with  a  stopcock,  by 
which  the  steam  was  admitted  or  shut  off 
at  will.  It  was  also  itself  provided  with 
a  stopcock,  enabling  a  communication  to 
be  opened  between  the  syringe  and  the 
outer  air  to  permit  the  steam  in  the 
syringe  to  escape.  The  apparatus,  though 
rude,  enabled  the  experimenter  to  ascer- 
tain some  important  facts.  When  the  steam  in  the 
digester  was  raised  and  the  cock  turned,  enabling  it  to 
rush  against  the  lower  side  of  the  piston,  he  found 
that  the  expansive  force  of  the  steam  raised  a  weight  of 
fifteen  pounds  with  which  the  piston  was  loaded.  Then, 
on  turning  the  cock  and  shutting  off  the  connexion  with 
the  digester  at  the  same  time  that  a  passage  was  opened 
to  the  air,  the  steam  was  allowed  to  escape,  when  the 
weight  upon  the  piston,  being  no  longer  counteracted, 
immediately  forced  it  to  descend. 

Watt  saw  that  it  would  be  easy  to  contrive  that  the 
cocks  should  be  turned  by  the  machinery  itself  instead  of 
by  the  hand,  and  the  whole  be  made  to  work  by  itself 
with  perfect  regularity.  But  there  was  an  objection  to 
this  method.  Water  is  converted  into  vapour  as  soon 
as  its  elasticity  is  sufficient  to  overcome  the  weight  of 
the  air  which  keeps  it  down.  Under  the  ordinary 
pressure  of  the  atmosphere  water  acquires  this  necessary 
elasticity  at  212°;  but  as  the  steam  in  the  digester  was 
prevented  from  escaping,  it  acquired  increased  heat,  and 
by  consequence  increased  elasticity.  Hence  it  was  that 

to  be  shown  over  his  laboratories, 
pointed  to  an  old  tea-tray  on  the 
table,  containing  a  few  watch-glasses, 

test  papers,  a  balance,  and  a  blow- 
pipe, and  observed,  "  There  is  all  the 
laboratory  1  possess." 




the  steam  which  issued  from  the  digester  was  not  only 
able  to  support  the  piston  and  the  air  which  pressed 
upon  its  upper  surface,  but  the  additional  load  with 
which  the  piston  was  weighted.  With  the  imperfect 
mechanical  construction,  however,  of  those  days,  there 
was  a  risk  lest  the  boiler  should  be  burst  by  the  steam, 
which  was  apt  to  force  its  way  through  the  ill-made 
joints  of  the  machine.  This,  conjoined  with  the  great 
expenditure  of  steam  on  the  high-pressure  system,  led 
Watt  to  abandon  the  plan ;  and  the  exigencies  of 
his  business  for  a  time  prevented  him  pursuing  his 
experiments.  Watt's  own  account  of  his  early  experi- 
ments will  be  found  appended  as  notes  to  Brewster's 
edition  of  the  articles  '  Steam  and  Steam-engines,' 
written  by  Dr.  Eobison  for  the  '  Encyclopaedia  Britan- 
nica,'  and  afterwards  published  in  a  separate  form. 

At  length  the  New- 
comen  model  arrived 
from  London ;  and,  in 
1763,  the  little  engine, 
which  was  destined  to 
become  so  famous,  was 
put  into  the  hands  of 
Watt.  The  boiler  was 
somewhat  smaller  than 
an  ordinary  tea-kettle. 
The  cylinder  of  the  en- 
gine was  only  of  two 
inches  diameter  and  six 
inches  stroke.  Watt  at 
first  regarded  it  as 
merely  "  a  fine  play- 
thing." It  was,  how- 
ever, enough  to  set  him 
upon  a  track  of  think- 
ing which  led  to  the  most  important  results.  When 
he  had  repaired  the  model  and  set  it  to  work,  he 



found  that  the  boiler,  though  apparently  large  enough, 
could  not  supply  steam  in  sufficient  quantity,  and  only 
a  few  strokes  of  the  piston  could  be  obtained,  when  the 
engine  stopped.  The  fire  was  urged  by  blowing,  and 
more  steam  was  produced,  but  still  it  would  not  work 
properly.  Exactly  at  the  point  at  which  another  man 
would  have  abandoned  the  task  in  despair,  the  mind  of 
Watt  became  thoroughly  roused.  "  Everything,"  says 
Professor  Robison,  "  was  to  him  the  beginning  of  a  new 
and  serious  study  ;  and  I  knew  that  he  would  not  quit 
it  till  he  had  either  discovered  its  insignificance,  or  had 
made  something  of  it."  Thus  it  happened  with  the 
phenomena  presented  by  the  model  of  the  steam-engine. 
Watt  referred  to  his  books,  and  endeavoured  to  ascertain 
from  them  by  what  means  he  might  remedy  the  defects 
which  he  found  in  the  model ;  but  they  could  tell  him 
nothing.  He  then  proceeded  with  an  independent 
course  of  experiments,  resolved  to  work  out  the  problem 
for  himself.  In  the  course  of  his  inquiries  he  came 
upon  a  fact  which,  more  than  any  other,  led  his  mind 
into  the  train  of  thought  which  at  last  conducted  him  to 
the  invention  of  which  the  results  were  destined  to  prove 
so  stupendous.  This  fact  was  the  existence  of  Latent  Heat. 
In  order  to  follow  the  track  of  investigation  pursued 
by  Watt,  it  is  necessary  for  a  moment  to  revert  to  the 
action  of  the  Newcomen  pumping-engine.  A  beam, 
moving  upon  a  centre,  had  affixed  to  one  end  of  it  a 
chain  attached  to  the  piston  of  the  pump,  and  at  the 
other  a  chain  attached  to  a  piston  that  fitted  into  the 
steam  cylinder.  It  was  by  driving  this  latter  piston  up 
and  down  the  cylinder  that  the  pump  was  worked.  To 
communicate  the  necessary  movement  to  the  piston,  the 
steam  generated  in  a  boiler  was  admitted  to  the  bottom 
of  the  cylinder,  forcing  out  the  air  through  a  valve, 
when  its  pressure  on  the  under  side  of  the  piston  coun- 
terbalanced the  pressure  of  the  atmosphere  on  its  upper 
side.  The  piston,  thus  placed  between  two  equal  forces, 


was  drawn  up  to  the  top  of  the  cylinder  by  the  greater 
weight  of  the  pump-gear  at  the  opposite  extremity  of 
the  beam.  The  steam,  so  far,  only  discharged  the  office 
which  was  performed  by  the  air  it  displaced ;  but,  if 
the  air  had  been  allowed  to  remain,  the  piston  once  at 
the  top  of  the  cylinder  could  not  have  returned,  being 
pressed  as  much  by  the  atmosphere  underneath  as  by 
the  atmosphere  above  it.  The  steam,  on  the  contrary, 
which  was  admitted  by  the  exclusion  of  the  air,  could  be 
condensed,  and  a  vacuum  created,  by  injecting  cold  water 
through  the  bottom  of  the  cylinder.  The  piston  being 
now  unsupported,  was  forced  down  by  the  pressure  of 
the  atmosphere  on  its  upper  surface.  When  the  piston 
reached  the  bottom,  the  steam  was  again  let  in,  and  the 
process  was  repeated.  Such  was  the  engine  in  ordinary 
use  for  pumping  water  at  the  time  that  Watt  begun  his 

Among  his  other  experiments,  he  constructed  a  boiler 
which  showed  by  inspection  the  quantity  of  water  eva- 
porated in  any  given  time,  and  the  quantity  of  steam 
used  in  every  stroke  of  the  engine.  He  was  astonished 
to  discover  that  a  small  quantity  of  water  in  the  form  of 
steam,  heated  a  large  quantity  of  cold  water  injected 
into  the  cylinder  for  the  purpose  of  cooling  it;  and 
upon  further  examination  he  ascertained  that  steam 
heated  six  times  its  weight  of  cold  water  to  212°,  which 
was  the  temperature  of  the  steam  itself.  "  Being  struck 
with  this  remarkable  fact,"  says  Watt,  "  and  not  under- 
standing the  reason  of  it,  I  mentioned  it  to  my  friend 
Dr.  Black,  who  then  explained  to  me  his  doctrine  of 
latent  heat,  which  he  had  taught  for  some  time  before 
this  period  (the  summer  of  1764);  but  having  myself 
been  occupied  by  the  pursuits  of  business,  if  I  had  heard 
of  it  I  had  not  attended  to  it,  when  I  thus  stumbled 
upon  one  of  the  material  facts  by  which  that  beautiful 
theory  is  supported."  ] 

1  Watt's  notes  to  Eobison's  Articles  on  *  Steam  and  Steam-ensjines.' 


When  Watt  found  that  water,  in  its  conversion  into 
vapour,  became  such  a  reservoir  of  heat,  he  was  more 
than  ever  bent  on  economising  it ;  for  the  great  waste 
of  heat  involving  so  heavy  a  consumption  of  fuel,  was 
felt  to  be  the  principal  obstacle  to  the  extended  employ- 
ment of  steam  as  a  motive  power.  He  accordingly 
endeavoured,  with  the  same  quantity  of  fuel,  at  once 
to  increase  the  production  of  steam,  and  to  diminish  its 
waste.  He  increased  the  heating  surface  of  the  boiler, 
by  making  flues  through  it ;  he  even  made  his  boiler 
of  wood,  as  being  a  worse  conductor  of  heat  than 
the  brickwork  which  surrounds  common  furnaces ;  and 
he  cased  the  cylinders  and  all  the  conducting -pipes 
in  materials  which  conducted  heat  very  slowly.  But 
none  of  these  contrivances  were  effectual ;  for  it  turned 
out  that  the  chief  expenditure  of  steam,  and  conse- 
quently of  fuel,  in  the  Newcomen  engine,  was  occa- 
sioned by  the  reheating  of  the  cylinder  after  the  steam 
had  been  condensed,  and  the  cylinder  was  consequently 
cooled  by  the  injection  into  it  of  the  cold  water. 
Nearly  four-fifths  of  the  whole  steam  employed  was 
condensed  on  its  first  admission,  before  the  surplus 
could  act  upon  the  piston.  Watt  therefore  came  to  the 
conclusion,  that  to  make  a  perfect  steam-engine,  it  was 
necessary  that  the  cylinder  should  be  always  as  hot  as  the 
steam  that  entered  it ;  but  it  was  equally  necessary  that 
the  steam  should  be  condensed  when  the  piston  de- 
scended,— nay,  that  it  should  be  cooled  down  below 
100°,  or  a  considerable  amount  of  vapour  would  be 
given  off,  which  would  resist  the  descent  of  the  piston, 
and  diminish  the  power  of  the  engine.  Thus  the 
cylinder  was  never  to  be  at  a  less  temperature  than 
212°,  and  yet  at  each  descent  of  the  piston  it  was  to  be 
less  than  100°;  conditions  which,  on  the  very  face  of 
them,  seemed  to  be  wholly  incompatible. 

We  revert  for  a  moment  to  the  progress  of  Watt's 
instrument-making  business.     The  shop  in  the  College 


was  not  found  to  answer,  being  too  far  from  the  prin- 
cipal thoroughfares.  If  he  wanted  business  he  must  go 
nearer  to  the  public,  for  it  was  evident  that  they  would 
not  come  to  him.  But  to  remove  to  a  larger  shop,  in  a 
more  central  quarter,  involved  an  expenditure  of  capital 
for  which  he  was  himself  unequal.  His  father  had 
helped  him  with  money  as  long  as  he  could,  but  could 
do  so  no  longer.  Though  he  was  as  much  respected 
by  his  neighbours  as  ever,  he  had  grown  poor  by  his 
losses ;  and,  instead  of  giving  help,  himself  needed  it. 
Watt  therefore  looked  about  him  for  a  partner  with 
means,  and  succeeded  in  finding  one  in  a  Mr.  John 
Craig,  in  conjunction  with  whom  he  opened  a  retail 
shop  in  the  Salt-market,  nearly  opposite  St.  Andrew's 
Street,  about  the  year  1760;  removing  from  thence  to 
Buchanan's  Land,  on  the  north  side  of  the  Trongate, 
a  few  years  later.1  Watt's  partner  was  not  a  mechanic, 
but  he  supplied  the  requisite  capital,  and  attended  to 
the  books.  The  partnership  was  on  the  whole  success- 
ful, as  we  infer  from  the  increased  number  of  hands 
employed.  At  first  Watt  could  execute  all  his  orders 
himself,  and  afterwards  by  the  help  of  a  man  and  a 
boy;  but  by  the  end  of  1764,  the  number  of  hands 
employed  by  the  firm  had  increased  to  sixteen. 

His  improving  business  brought  with  it  an  im- 
proving income,  and  Watt — always  a  frugal  and  thrifty 
man — began  to  save  a  little  money.  He  was  encouraged 
to  economise  by  another  circumstance  —  his  intended 
marriage  with  his  cousin,  Margaret  Miller.  In  antici- 
pation of  this  event,  he  had  removed  from  his  rooms 
in  the  College  to  a  house  in  Delftfield  Lane — a  narrow 
passage  then  parallel  with  York  Street,  but  now  con- 
verted into  the  spacious  thoroughfare  of  WTatt  Street. 

1  The  following  advertisement  in  I  the  Saltmercat  to  Mr.  Buchanan's  land  in  the 
the  'Glasgow  Journal 'of  the  1st  Dec.,  I  Trongate,  where  he  sells  all  sorts  of  M.i- 
1763,  fixes  the  date  of  this  last  re-  thematical  and  Musical  Instruments,  with 
nioval : variety  of  toys,  and  other  goods." 

'•  James  Watt  has  removed  his  shop  from  ; 





Having  furnished  his  house  in  a  plain  yet  comfortable 
style,  he  brought  home  his  young  wife,  and  installed  her 
there  in  July,  1764.  The  step  was  one  of  much  im- 
portance to  his  personal  wellbeing.  Mrs.  Watt  was  of  a 
lively,  cheerful  temperament ;  and  as  Watt  himself  was  of 
a  meditative  disposition,  prone  to  melancholy,  and  a  fre- 
quent sufferer  from  nervous  headache,  her  presence  at 
his  fireside  could  not  fail  to  have  a  beneficial  influence 
upon  his  health  and  comfort. 

Watt  continued  to  pursue  his  studies  as  before. 
Though  still  occupied  with  his  inquiries  and  experi- 
ments as  to  steam,  he  did  not  neglect  his  proper  busi- 
ness, but  was  constantly  on  the  look-out  for  improve- 
ments in  instrument  making.  A  machine  which  he 
invented  for  drawing  in  perspective  proved  a  success ; 
and  he  made  a  considerable  number  of  them  to  order, 
for  customers  in  London  as  well  as  abroad.  He  was 
also  an  indefatigable  reader,  and  continued  to  extend 


his  knowledge  of  chemistry  and  mechanics  by  perusal 
of  the  best  books  on  these  sciences. 

Above  all  other  subjects,  however,  the  improvement 
of  the  steam-engine  continued  to  keep  the  fastest  hold 
upon  his  mind.  He  still  brooded  over  his  experiments 
with  the  Newcomen  model,  but  did  not  seem  to  make 
much  way  in  introducing  any  practical  improvement  in 
its  mode  of  working.  His  friend  Eobison  says  he 
struggled  long  to  condense  with  sufficient  rapidity 
without  injection,  trying  one  expedient  after  another, 
finding  out  what  would  do  by  what  would  not  do,  and 
exhibiting  many  beautiful  specimens  of  ingenuity  and 
fertility  of  resource.  He  continued,  to  use  his  own 
words,  "  to  grope  in  the  dark,  misled  by  many  an  ignis 
fatuus"  It  was  a  favourite  saying  of  his,  that  "  Nature 
has  a  weak  side,  if  we  can  only  find  it  out ;"  and  he 
went  on  groping  and  feeling  for  it,  but  as  yet  in  vain. 
At  length  light  burst  upon  him,  and  all  at  once  the 
problem  over  which  he  had  been  brooding  was  solved. 

One  Sunday  afternoon,  in  the  spring  of  1765,  he 
went  to  take  an  afternoon  walk  on  the  Green,  then  a 
quiet,  grassy  meadow,  used  as  a  bleaching  and  grazing- 
ground.  On  week-days  the  Glasgow  lasses  came  thither 
with  their  largest  kail-pots,  to  boil  their  clothes  in ; 
and  sturdy  queans  might  be  seen,  with  coats  kilted, 
tramping  blankets  in  their  tubs.  On  Sundays  the  place 
was  comparatively  deserted,  and  hence  Watt,  who  lived 
close  at  hand,  went  there  to  take  a  quiet  afternoon 
stroll.  His  thoughts  were  as  usual  running  on  the  sub- 
ject of  his  unsatisfactory  experiments  with  the  Newco- 
men engine,  when  the  first  idea  of  the  separate  condenser 
suddenly  flashed  upon  his  mind.  But  the  notable  dis- 
covery is  best  told  in  his  own  words,  as  related  to  Mr. 
Robert  Hart,  many  years  after  : — 

"  I  had  gone  to  take  a  walk  on  a  fine  Sabbath  after- 
noon. I  had  entered  the  Green  by  the  gate  at  the  foot 
of  Charlotte  Street,  and  had  passed  the  old  washing- 



house.  I  was  thinking  upon  the  engine  at  the  time, 
and  had  gone  as  far  as  the  herd's  house,  when  the  idea 
came  into  my  mind  that  as  steam  was  an  elastic  hody  it 
would  rush  into  a  vacuum,  and  if  a  communication  were 
made  between  the  cylinder  and  an  exhausted  vessel,  it 
would  rush  into  it,  and  might  be  there  condensed  with- 
out cooling  the  cylinder.  I  then  saw  that  I  must  get 
rid  of  the  condensed  steam  and  injection- water  if  I  used 
a  jet,  as  in  Newcomen's  engine.  Two  ways  of  doing 
this  occurred  to  me.  First,  the  water  might  be  run  off 
by  a  descending  pipe,  if  an  off-let  could  be  got  at  the 
depth  of  35  or  36  feet,  and  any  air  might  be  extracted 
by  a  small  pump.  The  second  was  to  make  the  pump 
large  enough  to  extract  both  water  and  air.  He  con- 
tinued :  I  had  not  walked  further  than  the  Golf-house1 
when  the  whole  thing  was  arranged  in  my  mind." 2 

x  Great  and  prolific  ideas  are  almost  always  simple. 
What  seems  impossible  at  the  outset  appears  so  obvious 
when  it  is  effected  that  we  are  prone  to  marvel  that  it 
did  not  force  itself  at  once  upon  the  mind.  Late  in  life 
Watt,  with  his  accustomed  modesty,  declared  his  belief 
that  if  he  had  excelled,  it  had  been  by  chance  and  the 
neglect  of  others."  To  Professor  Jardine  he  said  "  that 
when  it  was  analysed  the  invention  would  not  appear  so 
great  as  it  seemed  to  be.  In  the  state,"  said  he,  "  in 
which  I  found  the  steam-engine,  it  was  no  great  effort 
of  mind  to  observe  that  the  quantity  of  fuel  necessary  to 
make  it  work  would  for  ever  prevent  its  extensive 
utility.  The  next  step  in  my  progress  was  equally  easy 

—to  inquire  what  was  the  cause  of  the  great  consump- 
tion of  fuel :  this,  too,  was  readily  suggested,  viz.,  the 
waste  of  fuel  which  was  necessary  to  bring  the  whole 
cylinder,  piston,  and  adjacent  parts  from  the  coldness  of 
water  to  the  heat  of  steam,  no  fewer  than  from  fifteen 

1  About  the  site  of  the  Humane 
Society's  House. 

2  Mr.  Robert  Hart's  '  Reminiscences 

of  James  Watt,'  in  '  Transactions  of 
the  Glasgow  Archaeological  Society, 




to  twenty  times  in  a  minute."  The  question  then 
occurred,  how  was  this  to  be  avoided  or  remedied  ? 
It  was  at  this  stage  that  the  idea  of  carrying  on  the 
condensation  in  a  separate  vessel  flashed  upon  his  .mind, 
and  solved  the  difficulty.1 

Mankind  has  been  more  just  to  Watt  than  he  was  to 
himself.  There  was  no  accident  in  the  discovery.  It 
had  been  the  result  of  close  and  continuous  study ;  and 
the  idea  of  the  separate  condenser  was  merely  the  last 
step  of  a  long  journey — a  step  which  could  not  have 
been  taken  unless  the  road  which  led  to  it  had  been 
traversed.  Dr.  Black  says,  "  This  capital  improvement 
flashed  upon  his  mind  at  once,  and  filled  him  with 
rapture ; "  a  statement  which,  spite  of  the  unimpassioned 
nature  of  Watt,  we  can  readily  believe. 

On  the  morning  following  his  Sunday  afternoon's 
walk  on  Glasgow  Green,  Watt  was  up  betimes  making 
arrangements  for  a  speedy  trial  of  his  new  plan.  He 
borrowed  from  a  college  friend  a  large  brass  syringe,  an 
inch  and  a  third  in  diameter,  and  ten  inches  long, 
of  the  kind  used  by  anatomists  for  injecting  arteries 
with  wax  previous  to  dissection.  The  body  of  the 
syringe  served  for  a  cylinder,  the  piston-rod  passing 
through  a  collar  of  leather  in  its  cover.  A  pipe  con- 
nected with  the  boiler  was  inserted  at  both  ends  for  the 
admission  of  steam,  and  at  the  upper  end  was  another 
pipe  to  convey  the  steam  to  the  condenser.  The  axis  of 
the  stem  of  the  piston  was  drilled  with  a  hole,  fitted 
with  a  valve  at  its  lower  end,  to  permit  the  water 

1  "  The  last  step  of  all,"  says  Pro- 
fessor Jardine,  "  was  more  difficult — 
the  forming  of  the  separate  condensing 
vessel.  The  great  knowledge  he  had 
acquired  of  the  mechanical  powers 
enabled  him  to  construct  it,  but  I  have 
often  heard  him  say  this  was  a  work 
of  great  difficulty,  and  that  he  met 
with  many  disappointments  before  he 
succeeded.  I  have  often  made  use  of 
this  beautiful  analysis  received  from 

Mr.  Watt,  in  another  department  in 
which  I  have  been  long  engaged,  to 
illustrate  and  encourage  the  progress  of 
genius  in  youth,  to  show,  that  once  in 
possession  of  a  habit  of  attention,  under 
proper  direction,  it  may  be  carried  from 
one  easy  step  to  another,  till  the  mind 
becomes  qualified  and  invigorated  for 
uniting  and  concentrating  effort — the 
highest  exertion  of  genius." 





produced  by  the  condensed  steam  on  first  filling  the 
cylinder  to  escape.  The  first  condenser  made  use  of 
was  an  improvised  cistern  of  tinned  plate,  provided 
with  a  pump  to  get  rid  of  the  water  formed  by  the 
condensation  of  the  steam,  both  the  condensing-pipes 
and  the  air-pump  being  placed  in  a  reservoir  of  cold 

"  The  steam-pipe,"  says  Watt,  "  was  adjusted  to  a  small  boiler. 
When  steam  was  produced,  it  was  admitted  into  the  cylinder,  and 

soon  issued  through  the  perforation  of  the 
rod,  and  at  the  valve  of  the  condenser ; 
when  it  was  judged  that  the  air  was  ex- 
pelled, the  steam-cock  was  shut,  and  the 
air-pump  piston-rod  was  drawn  up,  which 
leaving  the  small  pipes  of  the  condenser 
in  a  state  of  vacuum,  the  steam  entered 
them  and  was  condensed.  The  piston  of 
the  cylinder  immediately  rose  and  lifted 
a  weight  of  about  18  Ibs.,  which  was 
hung  to  the  lower  end  of  the  piston-rod. 
The  exhaustion-cock  was  shut,  the  steam 
was  readmitted  into  the  cylinder,  and  the 
operation  was  repeated.  The  quantity  of 
steam  consumed  and  the  weights  it  could 
raise  were  observed,  and,  excepting  the  non-application  of  the  steam- 
case  and  external  covering,  the  invention  was  complete,  in  so  far  as 
regarded  the  savings  of  steam  and  fuel." 

But,  although  the  invention  was  complete  in  Watt's 
mind,  it  took  him  many  long  and  laborious  years  to 
work  out  the  details  of  the  engine.  His  friend  Eobison, 
with  whom  his  intimacy  was  maintained  during  these 
interesting  experiments,  has  given  a  graphic  account  of 
the  difficulties  which  he  successively  encountered  and 
overcame.  He  relates  that  on  his  return  from  the 
country,  after  the  College  vacation  in  1765,  he  went  to 
have  a  chat  with  Watt  and  communicate  to  him  some 
observations  he  had  made  on  Desaguliers'  and  Belidor's 
account  of  the  steam-engine.  He  went  straight  into 
the  parlour,  without  ceremony,  and  found  Watt  sitting 
before  the  fire  looking  at  a  little  tin  cistern  which  he 



had  011  his  knee.  Robison  immediately  started  the 
conversation  about  steam,  his  mind,  like  Watt's,  being 
occupied  with  the  means  of  avoiding  the  excessive 
waste  of  heat  in  the  Newcomen  engine.  Watt,  all  the 
while,  kept  looking  into  the  fire,  and  after  a  time  laid 
down  the  cistern  at  the  foot  of  his  chair,  saying  nothing. 
It  seems  that  Watt  felt  rather  nettled  at  Robison 
having  communicated  to  a  mechanic  of  the  town  a 
contrivance  which  he  had  hit  upon  for  turning  the 
cocks  of  his  engine.  When  Robison  therefore  pressed 
his  inquiry,  Watt  at  length  looked  at  him  and  said 
briskly,  "  You  need  not  fash  yourself  any  more  about 
that,  man ;  I  have  now  made  an  engine  that  shall 
not  waste  a  particle  of  steam.  It  shall  all  be  boiling 
hot, — ay,  and  hot  water  injected,  if  I  please."  He 
then  pushed  the  little  tin  cistern  with  his  foot  under 
the  table. 

Robison  could  learn  no  more  of  the  new  contrivance 
from  Watt  at  that  time ;  but  on  the  same  evening  he 
accidentally  met  a  mutual  acquaintance,  who,  supposing 
he  knew  as  usual  the  progress  of  Watt's  experiments, 
observed  to  him,  "  Well,  have  you  seen  Jamie  Watt  ?  " 
"  Yes."  "  He'll  be  in  fine  spirits  now  with  his  engine  ?" 
"  Yes,"  said  Robisoii,  "  very  fine  spirits."  "  Gad  !  " 
said  the  other,  "  the  separate  condenser's  the  thing  : 
keep  it  but  cold  enough,  and  you  may  have  a  perfect 
vacuum,  whatever  be  the  heat  of  the  cylinder."  This 
was  Watt's  secret,  and  the  nature  of  the  contrivance 
was  clear  to  Robison  at  once. 

It  will  be  observed  that  AVatt  had  not  made  a  secret 
of  it  to  his  other  friends.  Indeed  Robison  himself 
admitted  that  one  of  Watt's  greatest  delights  was  to 
communicate  the  results  of  his  experiments  to  others, 
and  set  them  upon  the  same  road  to  knowledge*  with 
himself;  and  that  no  one  could  display  less  of  the  small 
jealousy  of  the  tradesman  than  he  did.  To  his  intimate 
friend,  Dr.  Black,  he  communicated  the  progress  made 

K  2 





by*  him  at  every  stage ;  and  the  Doctor  kindly 
encouraged  him  in  his  struggles,  cheered  him  in 
his  encounter  with  difficulty,  and,  what  was  of  still 
more  practical  value  at  the  time,  he  helped  him  with 
money  to  enable  him  to  prosecute  his  invention. 
Communicative  though  Watt  was  disposed  to  be, 
he  learnt  reticence  when  he  found  himself  exposed 
to  the  depredations  of  the  smaller  fry  of  inventors. 
Robison  says  that  had  he  lived  in  Birmingham  or 
London  at  the  time,  the  probability  is  that  some  one 
or  other  of  the  numerous  harpies  who  live  by  sucking 
other  people's  brains,  would  have  secured  patents  for 


his  more  important  inventions,  and  thereby  deprived 
him  of  the  benefits  of  his  skill,  science,  and  labour. 
As  yet,  however,  there  were  but  few  mechanics  in 
Glasgow  capable  of  understanding  or  appreciating  the 
steam-engine ;  and  the  intimate  friends  to  whom  he 
freely  spoke  of  his  discovery  were  too  honourable- 
minded  to  take  advantage  of  his  confidence.  Shortly 
after,  Watt  fully  communicated  to  Eobison  the  different 
stages  of  his  invention,  and  the  results  at  which  he  had 
arrived,  much  to  the  delight  of  his  friend. 

It  will  be  remembered  that  in  the  Newcomen  engine 
the  steam  was  only  employed  for  the  purpose  of 
producing  a  vacuum,  and  that  its  working  power  was 
in  the  down  stroke,  which  was  effected  by  the  pressure 
of  the  air  upon  the  piston ;  hence  it  is  now  usual  to 
call  it  the  atmospheric  engine.  Watt  perceived  that 
the  air  which  followed  the  piston  down  the  cylinder 
wTould  cool  the  latter,  and  that  steam  would  be  wasted 
in  re-heating  it.  In  order,  therefore,  to  avoid  this 
loss  of  heat,  he  resolved  to  put  an  air-tight  cover  upon 
the  cylinder,  with  a  hole  and  stuffing-box  for  the  piston- 
rod  to  slide  through,  and  to  admit  steam  above  the 
piston,  to  act  upon  it  instead  of  the  atmosphere.  When 
the  steam  had  done  its  duty  in  driving  down  the  piston, 
a  communication  was  opened  between  the  upper  and 
lower  part  of  the  cylinder,  and  the  same  steam,  dis- 
tributing itself  equally  in  both  compartments,  sufficed 
to  restore  equilibrium.  The  piston  was  now  drawn  up 
by  the  weight  of  the  pump-gear;  the  steam  beneath 
it  was  then  condensed  in  the  separate  vessel  so  as  to 
produce  a  vacuum,  and  a  fresh  jet  of  steam  from  the 
boiler  was  let  in  above  the  piston,  which  forced  it  again 
to  the  bottom  of  the  cylinder.  From  an  atmospheric  it 
had  thus  become  a  true  steam-engine,  and  with  a  much 
greater  economy  of  steam  than  when  the  air  did  half  the 
duty.  But  it  was  not  only  important  to  keep  the  air 
from  flowing  down  the  inside  of  the  cylinder :  the 


air  which  circulated  within  cooled  the  metal  and  con- 
densed a-  portion  of  the  steam  within ;  and  this  Watt 
proposed  to  remedy  by  a  second  cylinder,  surrounding 
the  first  with  an  interval  between  the  two  which  was  to 
be  kept  full  of  steam. 

One  by  one  these  various  contrivances  were  struck 
out,  modified,  settled,  and  reduced  to  definite  plans; 
the  separate  condenser,  the  air  and  water  pumps,  the 
use  of  fat  and  oil  (instead  of  water  as  in  the  Newcornen 
engine)  to  keep  the  piston  working  in  the  cylinder 
air-tight,  and  the  enclosing  of  the  cylinder  itself  within 
another  to  prevent  the  loss  of  heat.  They  were  all  but 
emanations  from  the  first  idea  of  inventing  an  engine 
working  by  a  piston,  in  which  the  cylinder  should 
be  kept  continually  hot  and  perfectly  dry.  "  When 
once,"  says  Watt,  "the  idea  of  separate  condensation 
was  started,  all  these  improvements  followed  as  corollaries 
in  quick  succession ;  so  that  in  the  course  of  one  or 
two  days  the  invention  was  thus  far  complete  in  my 

The  next  step  was  to  construct  a  model  engine  for 
the  purpose  of  embodying  the  invention  in  a  working 
form.  With  this  object  Watt  hired  an  old  cellar, 
situated  in  the  first  wide  entry  to  the  north  of  the 
beef-market  in  King  Street,  and  there  proceeded  with 
his  model.  He  found  it  much  easier,  however,  to  pre- 
pare his  plan  than  to  execute  it.  Like  most  ingenious 
and  inventive  men,  Watt  was  extremely  fastidious; 
and  this  occasioned  considerable  delay  in  the  execution 
of  the  work.  His  very  inventiveness  to  some  extent 
proved  a  hinderance ;  for  new  expedients  were  per- 
petually occurring  to  him,  which  he  thought  would  be 
improvements,  and  which  he,  by  turns,  endeavoured 
to  introduce.  Some  of  these  expedients  he  admits 
proved  fruitless,  and  all  of  them  occasioned  delay. 
Another  of  his  chief  difficulties  was  in  finding  com- 
petent workmen  to  execute  his  plans.  He  himself  had 
been  accustomed  only  to  small  metal  work,  with  com- 




paratively  delicate  tools,  and  had  very  little  experience 
" in  the  practice  of  mechanics  in  great"  as  he  termed  it. 
He  was  therefore  under  the  necessity  of  depending-, 
in  a  great  measure,  upon  the  handiwork  of  others. 
But  mechanics  capable  of  working  out  Watt's  designs 
in  metal  were  then  with  difficulty  to  be  found.  The 
beautiful  self-acting  tools  and  workmanship  which  have 
since  been  called  into  being,  principally  by  his  own 
invention,  did  not  then  exist.  The  only  available  hands 
in  Glasgow  were  the  blacksmiths  and  tinners,  little 
capable  of  constructing  articles  out  of  their  ordinary 
walks ;  and  even  in  these  they  were  often  found  clumsy, 
blundering,  and  incompetent.  The  result  was,  that  in 
consequence  of  the  malconstruction  of  the  larger  parts, 
Watt's  first  model  was  only  partially  successful.  The 
experiments  made  with  it,  however,  served  to  verify 
the  expectations  he  had  formed,  and  to  place  the  advan- 
tages of  the  invention  beyond  the  reach  of  doubt.  On 
the  exhausting-cock  being  turned,  the  piston,  when 
loaded  with  18  Ibs.,  ascended  as  quick  as  the  blow  of  a 
hammer  ;  and  the  moment  the  steam-cock  was  opened, 
it  descended  with  like  rapidity,  though  the  steam  was 
weak,  and  the  machine  snifted  at  many  openings. 

Satisfied  that  he  had  laid  hold  of  the  right  principle 
of  a  working  steam-engine,  Watt  felt  impelled  to  follow 
it  to  an  issue.  He  could  give  his  mind  to  no  other 
business  in  peace  until  this  was  done.  He  wrote  to  a 
friend  that  he  was  quite  barren  on  every  other  subject. 
"  My  whole  thoughts,"  said  he,  "  are  bent  on  this 
machine.  I  can  think  of  nothing  else." l  He  proceeded 

1  "  I  have  now  (April,  1765)  almost 
a  certainty  of  ihefactitrum  of  the  fire- 
engine,  having  determined  the  follow- 
ing particulars  :  The  quantity  of  steam 
produced ;  the  ultimatum  of  the  lever 
engine ;  the  quantity  of  steam  de- 
stroyed by  the  cold  of  its  cylinder; 
the  quantity  destroyed  in  mine ;  and 
if  there  be  not  some  devil  in  the  hedge, 
mine  ought  to  raise  wjiter  to  44  feet 
with  the  same  quantity  of  steam  that 

theirs  does  to  32  (supposing  my 
cylinder  as  thick  as  theirs),  which  I 
think  I  can  demonstrate..  I  can  now 
make  a  cylinder  2  feet  diameter  and 
3  feet  high,  only  a  40th  of  an  inch 
thick,  and  strong  enough  to  resist  the 
atmosphere  ;  sed  face.  In  short,  I 
can  think  of  nothing  else  but  this 
machine." — Watt  to  Dr.  Lind,  quoted 
in  Muirhead's  '  Life  of  Watt,'  94-5. 



to  make  another  and  bigger,  and,  he  hoped,  a  more 
satisfactory  engine,  in  the  following  August ;  and  with 
that  object  he  removed  from  the  old  cellar  in  King- 
street  to  a  larger  apartment  in  the  then  disused  pottery 
or  delftwork  near  the  Broomielaw.  There  he  shut 
himself  up  with  his  assistant,  John  Gardiner,  for  the 
purpose  of  erecting  his  engine.  The  cylinder  was  five 
or  six  inches  in  diameter,  with  a  two-feet  stroke.  The 
inner  cylinder  was  enclosed  in  a  wooden  steam-case,  and 
placed  inverted,  the  piston  working  through  a  hole  in  the 
bottom  of  the  steam-case.  After  two  months*  continuous 
application  and  labour  it  was  finished  and  set  to  work ; 
but  it  leaked  in  all  directions,  and  the  piston  was  far 
from  air-tight.  The  condenser  also  was  in  a  bad  way, 
and  needed  many  alterations.  Nevertheless,  the  engine 
readily  worked  with  10  i  Ibs.  pressure  on  the  inch,  and 
the  piston  lifted  a  weight  of  14  Ibs.  The 'improvement 
of  the  cylinder  and  piston  continued  Watt's  chief  diffi- 
culty, and  taxed  his  ingenuity  to  the  utmost.  At  so  low 
an  ebb  was  the  art  of  making  cylinders  that  the  one  he 
used  was  not  bored  but  hammered,  the  collective  me- 
chanical skill  of  Glasgow  being  then  unequal  to  the 
boring  of  a  cylinder  of  the  simplest  kind ;  nor,  indeed, 
did  the  necessary  appliances  for  the  purpose  then  exist 
anywhere  else.  In  the  Newcomen  engine  a  little  water 
was  poured  upon  the  upper  surface  of  the  piston,  and  suffi- 
ciently filled  up  the  interstices  between  the  piston  and  the 
cylinder.  But  when  Watt  employed  steam  to  drive  down 
the  piston,  he  was  deprived  of  this  resource,  for  the 
water  and  the  steam  could  not  coexist.  Even  if  he  had 
retained  the  agency  of  the  air  above,  the  drip  of  water 
from  the  crevices  into  the  lower  part  of  the  cylinder 
would  have  been  incompatible  with  keeping  the  surface 
hot  and  dry,  and,  by  turning  into  vapour  as  it  fell  upon 
the  heated  metal,  it  would  have  impaired  the  vacuum 
during  the  descent  of  the  piston. 

While  he  was  occupied  with  this  difficulty,  and  striving 


to  overcome  it  by  the  adoption  of  new  expedients,  such  as 
leather  collars  and  improved  workmanship,  he  wrote  to  a 
friend,  "  My  old  white-iron  man  is  dead ;"  the  old  white- 
iron  man,  or  tinner,  being  his  leading  mechanic.  Unhap- 
pily, also,  just  as  he  seemed  to  have  got  the  engine  into 
working  order,  the  beam  broke,  and  having  great  diffi- 
culty in  replacing  the  damaged  part,  the  accident  threat- 
ened, together  with  the  loss  of  his  best  workman,  to  bring 
the  experiment  to  an  end.  But  though  discouraged  by 
these  misadventures,  he  was  far  from  defeated,  but  went 
on  as  before,  battling  down  difficulty  inch  by  inch,  and 
holding  good  the  ground  he  had  won,  becoming  every 
day  more  strongly  convinced  that  he  was  in  the  right 
track,  and  that  the  important  uses  of  the  invention, 
could  he  but  find  time  and  means  to  perfect  it,  were 
beyond  the  reach  of  doubt. 

But  how  to  find  the  means !  Watt  himself  was  a 
comparatively  poor  man ;  having  no  money  but  what 
he  earned  by  his  business  of  mechanical  instrument 
making,  which  he  had  for  some  time  been  neglect- 
ing through  his  devotion  to  the  construction  of  his 
engine.  What  he  wanted  was  capital,  or  the  help  of 
a  capitalist  willing  to  advance  him  the  necessary  funds 
to  perfect  his  invention.  To  give  a  fair  trial  to  the 
new  apparatus  would  involve  an  expenditure  of  several 
thousand  pounds;  and  who  on  the  spot  could  be  ex- 
pected to  invest  so  large  a  sum  in  trying  a  machine  so 
entirely  new,  depending  for  its  success  on  physical  prin- 
ciples very  imperfectly  understood  ? 

There  was  no  such  help  to  be  found  in  Glasgow. 
The  tobacco  lords,  though  rich,  took  no  interest  in  steam 
power,  and  the  manufacturing  class,  though  growing  in 
importance,  had  full  employment  for  their  little  capital 
in  their  own  concerns. 




DR.  BLACK  continued  to  take  a  lively  interest  in  Watt's 
experiments,  and  lent  him  occasional  sums  of  money 
from  time  to  time  to  enable  him  to  prosecute  them  to  an 
issue.  But  the  Doctor's  means  were  too  limited  to 
permit  him  to  do  more  than  supply  Watt's  more  pressing1 
necessities.  Meanwhile,  the  debts  which  the  latter  had 
already  incurred,  small  though  they  were  in  amount, 
hung  like  a  millstone  round  his  neck.  Black  then 
bethought  him  whether  it  would  not  be  possible  to  asso- 
ciate Watt  with  some  person  possessed  of  sufficient 
means,  and  of  an  active  commercial  spirit,  who  should 
join  as  a  partner  in  the  risk,  and  share  in  the  profits  of 
the  enterprise.  Such  a  person,  he  thought,  was  Dr. 
Eoebuck,  the  founder  of  the  Carroii  Iron  Works,  an 
enterprising  man,  of  undaunted  spirit,  not  scared  by 
difficulties,  nor  a  niggard  of  expense  when  he  saw 
before  him  any  reasonable  prospect  of  advantage.1 

Roebuck  was  at  that  time  engaged  in  sinking  for  coal 
on  a  large  scale  near  Boroughstoness,  where  he  ex- 
perienced considerable  difficulty  in  keeping  the  shafts 
clear  of  water.  The  Newcomen  engine,  which  he  had 
erected,  was  found  comparatively  useless,  and  he  was 
ready  to  embrace  any  other  scheme  which  held  out 
a  reasonable  prospect  of  success.  Accordingly,  when 
his  friend  Dr.  Black  informed  him  of  an  ingenious 
young  mechanic  at  Glasgow  who  had  invented  a  steam- 

1  For  Memoir  of  llocbuck,  see  *  Industrial  Biography,'  p.  133. 


engine,  capable  of  working  with  increased  power,  speed, 
and  economy,  Roebuck  immediately  felt  interested, 
and  entered  into  correspondence  with  Watt  on  the 
subject.  He  was  at  first  somewhat  sceptical  as  to 
the  practicability  of  the  new  engine,  so  different  in  its 
action  from  that  of  Newcomen ;  and  he  freely  stated 
his  doubts  to  Dr.  Black.  He  was  under  the  impression 
that  condensation  might  in  some  way  be  effected  in 
the  cylinder  without  injection ;  and  he  urged  Watt  to 
try  whether  this  might  not  be  done.  Contrary  to  his 
own  judgment,  Watt  tried  a  series  of  experiments  with 
this  object,  and  at  last  abandoned  them,  Roebuck  him- 
self admitting  his  error. 

Up  to  this  time  Watt  and  Roebuck  had  not  met, 
though  they  carried  on  a  long  correspondence  on  the 
subject  of  the  engine.  In  September,  1765,  we  find 
Roebuck  inviting  Watt  to  come  over  with  Dr.  Black  to 
Kimieil  (where  Roebuck  lived),  and  discuss  with  him 
the  subject  of  the  engine.  Watt  wrote  to  say  that  "  if 
his  foot  allowed  him"  he  would  visit  Carron  on  a 
certain  day,  from  which  we  infer  that  he  intended 
to  walk.  But  the  way  was  long  and  the  road  miry, 
and  Watt  could  not  then  leave  his  instrument  shop,  so 
the  visit  was  postponed.  In  the  mean  time  Roebuck 
urged  Watt  to  press  forward  his  invention  with  all 
speed,  "  whether  he  pursued  it  as  a  philosopher  or  as  a 
man  of  business." 

In  the  month  of  November  following,  Watt  forwarded 
to  Roebuck  the  detailed  drawings  of  a  covered  cylinder 
and  piston  to  be  cast  at  the  Carron  Works.  Though 
the  cylinder  was  the  best  that  could  be  made  there,  it 
was  very  ill-bored,  and  was  eventually  laid  aside  as 
useless.  The  piston-rod  was  made  at  Glasgow,  under 
Watt's  own  supervision ;  and  when  it  was  completed 
he  was  afraid  to  send  it  on  a  common  cart,  lest 
the  workpeople  should  see  it,  which  would  "occasion 
speculation."  "I  believe,"  he  wrote  in  July,  1766,  "it 


would  be  best  to  send  it  in  a  box."  These  precautions 
would  seem  to  have  been  dictated,  in  some  measure,  by 
fear  of  piracy ;  and  it  is  obvious  that  the  necessity  of 
acting  by  stealth  increased  the  difficulty  of  getting  the 
various  parts  of  the  proposed  engine  constructed.  Watt's 
greatest  obstacle  continued  to  be  the  clumsiness  and 
inexpertness  of  his  mechanics.  "  My  principal  hin- 
derance  in  erecting  engines,"  he  wrote  to  Koebuck,  "  is 
always  the  smith-work." 

In  the  mean  time  it  was  necessary  for  Watt  to  attend 
to  the  maintenance  of  his  family.  He  found  that  the 
steam-engine  experiments  brought  nothing  in,  while 
they  were  a  constant  source  of  expense.  Besides, 
they  diverted  him  from  his  retail  business,  which  needed 
constant  attention.  It  ought  also  to  be  mentioned  that 
his  partner  having  lately  died,  the  business  had  been 
somewhat  neglected  and  had  consequently  fallen  off. 
At  length  he  determined  to  give  it  up  altogether, 
and  begin  the  business  of  a  surveyor.  He  accordingly 
removed  from  the  shop  in  Buchanan's  Land  to  an  office 
on  the  east  side  of  King-street,  a  little  south  of  Prince's- 
street.  It  would  appear  that  he  succeeded  in  obtaining 
a  fair  share  of  business  in  his  new  vocation.  He  already 
possessed  a  sufficient  knowledge  of  surveying  from  the 
study  of  the  instruments  which  it  had  been  his  business 
to  make  ;  and  application  and  industry  did  the  rest. 
'His  first  jobs  were  in  surveying  lands,  defining  boun- 
daries, and  surveyor's  work  of  the  ordinary  sort ;  from 
which  he  gradually  proceeded  to  surveys  of  a  more  im- 
portant character. 

It  affords  some  indication  of  the  local  estimation  in 
which  Watt  was  held,  that  the  magistrates  of  Glasgow 
should  have  selected  him  as  a  proper  person  to  survey  a 
canal  for  the  purpose  of  opening  up  a  new  coal-field  in 
the  neighbourhood,  and  connecting  it  with  the  city, 
with  a  view  to  a  cheaper  and  more  abundant  supply  of 


fuel.  He  also  surveyed  a  ditch-canal  for  the  purpose 
of  connecting  the  rivers  Forth  and  Clyde,  by  what  was 
called  the  Loch  Lomond  passage ;  though  the  scheme  of 
Brindley  and  Smeaton  was  eventually  preferred  as  the 
more  direct  line.  Watt  came  up  to  London  in  1767, 
in  connexion  with  the  application  to  Parliament  for 
powers  to  construct  his  canal;  and  he  seems  to  have 
been  very  much  disgusted  with  the  proceedings  before 
"  the  confounded  committee  of  Parliament,"  as  he  called 
it ;  adding,  "  I  think  I  shall  not  long  to  have  anything 
to  do  with  the  House  of  Commons  again.  I  never  saw 
so  many  wrong-headed  people  on  all  sides  gathered  toge- 
ther." The  fact,  however,  that  they  had  decided  against 
him  had  probably  some  share  in  leading  him  to  form 
this  opinion  as  to  the  wrong-headedness  of  the  Parlia- 
mentary Committee. 

Though  interrupted  by  indispensable  business  of  this 
sort,  Watt  proceeded  with  the  improvement  of  his  steam- 
engine  whenever  leisure  permitted.  Eoebuck 's  confi- 
dence in  its  eventual  success  was  such  that  in  1767  he 
undertook  to  pay  debts  to  the  amount  of  1000/.  which 
Watt  had  incurred  in  prosecuting  his  project  up  to 
that  time,  and  also  to  provide  the  means  of  prosecuting 
further  experiments,  as  well  as  to  secure  a  patent  for 
the  engine.  In  return  for  this  outlay  Eoebuck  was 
to  have  two-thirds  of  the  property  in  the  invention. 
Early  in  1768  Watt  made  trial  of  a  new  and  larger 
model,  with  a  cylinder  of  seven  or  eight  inches  dia- 
meter. But  the  result  was  not  very  satisfactory.  "  By 
an  unforeseen  misfortune,"  he  wrote  Roebuck,  "  the 
mercury  found  its  way  into  the  cylinder,  and  played 
the  devil  with  the  solder.  This  throws  us  back  at  least 
three  days,  and  is  very  vexatious,  especially  as  it  hap- 
pened in  spite  of  the  precautions  I  had  taken  to  prevent 
it."  Eoebuck,  becoming  impatient,  urged  Watt  to  meet 
him  to  talk  the  matter  over  ;  and  suggested  that  as  Watt 




could  not  come  as  far  as  Carron,  they  should  meet  at 
Kilsyth,  about  fifteen  miles  from  Glasgow.  Watt 
replied,  saying  he  was  too  unwell  to  be  able  to  ride  so 
far,  and  that  his  health  was  such  that  the  journey  would 
disable  him  from  doing  anything  for  three  or  four  days 
after.  But  he  went  on  with  his  experiments,  patching 
up  his  engine,  and  endeavouring  to  get  it  into  working 
condition.  After  about  a  month's  labour,  he  at  last 
succeeded  to  his  heart's  content ;  and  he  at  once  com- 
municated the  news  to  his  partner,  intimating  his  inten- 
tion of  at  last  paying  his  long-promised  visit  to  Roebuck 
at  Kinneil.  "  I  sincerely  wish  you  joy  of  this  successful 
result,"  he  said,  "  and  hope  it  will  make  some  return  for 
the  obligations  I  owe  you." 


Kinneil  House,  to  which  Watt  hastened  to  pay  his 
visit  of  congratulation  to  Dr.  Eoebuck,  is  an  old-fashioned 
building,  somewhat  resembling  an  old  French  chateau. 
It  was  a  former  country-seat  of  the  Dukes  of  Hamilton, 
and  is  finely  situated  on  the  shores  of  the  Frith  of 
Forth.  The  mansion  is  rich  in  classical  associations, 
having  been  inhabited,  since  Roebuck's  time,  by  Dugald 
Stewart,  who  wrote  in  it  his  '  Philosophy  of  the  Human 




Mind.' l  There  he  was  visited  by  Wilkie,  the  painter, 
when  in  search  of  subjects  for  his  pictures;  and  Dugald 
Stewart  found  for  him,  in  an  old  farmhouse  in  the 
neighbourhood,  the  cradle-chimne.y  introduced  in  the 
"  Penny  Wedding."  But  none  of  these  names  can  stand 
by  the  side  of  that  of  Watt ;  and  the  first  thought  at 
Kinneil,  of  every  one  who  is  familiar  with  his  history, 
would  be  of  the  memorable  day  when  he  rode  over 
in  exultation  to  wish  Dr.  Roebuck  joy  of  the  success 
of  the  steam-engine.  His  note  of  triumph  was,  how- 
ever, premature.  He  had  yet  to  suffer  many  sickening 
delays  and  bitter  disappointments ;  for,  though  he  had 
contrived  to  get  his  model  executed  with  fair  pre- 
cision, the  skill  was  still  wanting  to  manufacture  the 
parts  of  their  full  size  with  the  requisite  unity ;  and  his 
present  elation  was  consequently  doomed  to  be  succeeded 
by  repeated  discomfiture. 

The  model  went  so  well,  however,  that  it  was  deter- 
mined at  once  to  take  out  a  patent  for  the  engine.  The 
first  step  was  to  secure  its  provisional  protection,  and 
with  that  object  Watt  went  to  Berwick-upon-Tweed, 
and  made  a  declaration  before  a  Master  in  Chancery 
of  the  nature  of  the  invention.  In  August,  1768,  we 
find  him  in  London  on  the  business  of  the  patent.  He 
became  utterly  wearied  with  the  delays  interposed  by 
sluggish  officialism,  and  disgusted  with  the  heavy  fees 
which  he  was  required  to  pay  in  order  to  protect  his 
invention.  He  wrote  home  to  his  wife  at  Glasgow 
in  a  very  desponding  mood.  Knowing  her  husband's 
diffidence  and  modesty,  but  having  the  fullest  confidence 
in  his  genius,  she  replied,  "  I  beg  that  you  will  not 
make  yourself  uneasy,  though  things  should  not  succeed 

1  When  we  visited  the  place  many 
years  ago,  Miss  Stewart's  spinnet  still 
stood  in  the  drawing-room,  but  there 
was  not  a  tone  left  in  it.  Like  many 
other  old  houses,  Kinneil  has  the  re- 
putation of  being  haunted.  The  ghost 

is  that  of  a  "  Lady  Lilburne,"  wife  of 
the  Parliamentary  General,  who  is 
said  to  have  thrown  herself  out  of  one 
of  the  windows  during  her  husband's 


to  your  wish.  If  it  [the  condensing  engine]  will  not 
do,  something  else  will ;  never  despair."  Watt  must  have 
felt  cheered  by  these  brave  words  of  his  noble  helpmate, 
and  encouraged  to  go  onward  cheerfully  in  hope. 

He  could  not,  however,  shake  off  his  recurring  fits 
of  despondency,  and  on  his  return  to  Glasgow,  we  find 
him  occasionally  in  very  low  spirits.  Though  his  head 
was  full  of  his  engine,  his  heart  ached  with  anxiety  for 
his  family,  who  could  not  be  maintained  on  hope, 
already  so  often  deferred.  The  more  sanguine  Eoebuck 
was  elated  with  the  good  working  of  the  model,  and 
impatient  to  bring  the  invention  into  practice.  He 
wrote  Watt  in  October,  1768,  "  You  are  now  letting  the 
most  active  part  of  your  life  insensibly  glide  away. 
A  day,  a  moment,  ought  not  to  be  lost.  And  you 
should  not  suffer  your  thoughts  to  be  diverted  by  any 
other  object,  or  even  improvement  of  this,  but  only  the 
speediest  and  most  effectual  manner  of  executing  an 
engine  of  a  proper  size,  according  to  your  present 

Watt,  however,  felt  that  his  invention  was  capable  of 
many  improvements,  and  he  was  never  done  introducing 
new  expedients.  He  proceeded,  in  the  intervals  of  leisure 
which  he  could  spare  from  his  surveying  business,  to 
complete  the  details  of  the  drawings  and  specification, 
— making  various  trials  of  pipe-condensers,  plate- 
condensers,  and  dram-condensers,  —  contriving  steam- 
jackets  to  prevent  the  waste  of  heat  and  new  methods 
for  securing  greater  tightness  of  the  piston, — inventing 
condenser-pumps,  oil-pumps,  gauge-pumps,  exhausting- 
cylinders,  loading-valves,  double  cylinders,  beams,  and 
cranks.  All  these  contrivances  had  to  be  thought  out 
and  tested,  elaborately  and  painfully,  amidst  many 
failures  and  disappointments ;  and  Dr.  Roebuck  began 
to  fear  that  the  fresh  expedients  which  were  always 
starting  up  in  Watt's  brain,  would  endlessly  protract  the 
consummation  of  the  invention.  Watt,  on  his  part,  felt 


that  he  could  only  bring  the  engine  nearer  to  perfection 
by  never  resting  satisfied  with  imperfect  devices,  and 
hence  he  left  no  means  untried  to  overcome  the  many 
practical  defects  in  it  of  which  he  was  so  conscious. 
Long  after,  when  a  noble  lord  was  expressing  to  him 
the  admiration  with  which  he  regarded  his  great 
achievement,  Watt  replied :  "  The  public  only  look 
at  my  success,  and  not  at  the  intermediate  failures 
and  uncouth  constructions  which  have  served  me  as  so 
many  steps  to  climb  to  the  top  of  the  ladder." 

As  to  the  lethargy  from  which  Roebuck  sought  to 
raise  Watt,  it  was  merely  the  temporary  reaction  of  a 
mind  strained  and  wearied  with  long-continued  appli- 
cation to  a  single  subject,  and  from  which  it  seemed 
to  be  occasionally  on  the  point  of  breaking  down  alto- 
gether. To  his  intimate  friends,  Watt  bemoaned  his 
many  failures,  his  low  spirits,  his  bad  health,  and  his 
sleepless  nights.  He  wrote  to  his  friend  Dr.  Small l  in 
January,  1769,  "  I  have  many  things  I  could  talk  to 
you  about — much  contrived,  and  little  executed.  How 
much  would  good  health  and  spirits  be  worth  to  me !  " 
A  month  later  he  wrote,  "  I  am  still  plagued  with  head- 
aches, and  sometimes  heart-aches." 

It  is  nevertheless  a  remarkable  proof  of  Watt's  inde- 
fatigable perseverance  in  his  favourite  pursuit,  that  at 
this  very  time,  when  apparently  sunk  in  the  depths  of 
gloom,  he  learnt  German  for  the  purpose  of  getting  at 
the  contents  of  a  curious  book,  the  Theatrum  Machinarum 
of  Leupold,  which  just  then  fell  into  his  hands,  and 
contained  an  account  of  the  machines,  furnaces,  methods 
of  working,  profits,  &c.,  of  the  mines  in  the  Upper 
Hartz.  His  instructor  in  the  language  was  a  Swiss 
dyer,2  settled  in  Glasgow.  With  the  like  object  of 

1  Dr.  Small  was  born  in  17-54-  at 
Carmylie,  Angus,  Scotland,  of  which 
parish  his  father  .  was  the  minister. 
He  had  been  for  some  time  the  pro- 
fessor of  Natural  Philosophy  in  the 

Universit}?"  of  Williamsburg,  Virginia, 
from  whence  he  returned  to  England 
and  settled  at  Birmingham. 

2  "  I  have,"  he  writes,  "just  now 
got  a  curious  book,  being  an  account  of 





gaining  access  to  untranslated  books  in  French  and 
Italian — then  the  great  depositories  of  mechanical  and 
engineering  knowledge — Watt  had  already  mastered 
both  those  languages. 

In  preparing  his  specification,  Watt  viewed  the  sub- 
ject in  all  its  bearings.  The  production  of  power  by 
steam  is  a  very  large  one,  but  Watt  grasped  it 
thoroughly.  The  insight  with  which  he  searched, 
analysed,  arranged,  and  even  provided  for  future  modi- 
fications, was  the  true  insight  of  genius.  He  seems  with 
an  almost  prophetic  eye  to  have  seen  all  that  steam  was 
capable  of  accomplishing.  This  is  well  illustrated  by 
his  early  plan  of  working  steam  expansively  by  cutting 
it  off  at  about  half-stroke,  thereby  greatly  economising  its 
use  ;*  as  well  as  by  his  proposal  to  employ  high-pressure 
steam  where  cold  water  could  not  be  used  for  purposes 

all  the  machines,  furnaces,  methods 
of  working,  profits,  &c.,  of  the  mines 
of  the  Upper  Hartz.  It  is  unluckily 
in  German,  which  I  understand  little 
of,  but  am  improving  in  by  the  help 
of  a  truly  Chymical  Swiss  Dyer,  who 
is  come  here  to  dye  standing  red  on 
linen  and  cotton,  in  which  he  is  suc- 
cessful. He  is  according  to  the 
custom  of  philosophers  ennuye  to  a 
great  degree,  but  seems  to  be  more 
modest  than  is  usual  with  them  ;  and, 
what  is  still  more  unusual,  is  attached 
only  to  his  dyeing,  though  he  has  a 
tolerable  knowledge  of  chymestry.  He 
promises  to  make  me  a  coat  that  will 
not  wet  though  boiled  in  water.  This 
would  be  of  great  use  to  a  hundred 
people  I  see  just  now  running  by,  wet 
to  the  skin.  ...  I  verily  believe  the 
drops  are  an  inch  in  diameter !  To 
return  to  the  book — it  contains  an 
account  of  all  the  unsuccessful  experi- 
ments that  have  been  tried  in  the 
Hartz,  and  I  assure  you  it  gives  me 
some  consolation  to  see  the  great 
Liebnitz,  the  rival  of  Newton,  bung- 
ling repeatedly,  applying  wind  mills 
to  raise  ore  while  water  ran  idle  past 
him.  There  is  among  other  machines 
the  fellow  of  Blackie's,  only  worked  by 
water,  and  a  full  and  true  account  of 

why  it  did  not  succeed,  which  he 
should  read.  Their  machines  in  gene- 
ral display  great  ingenuity  though 
ignorance  of  principles." — Watt  to 
Small,  May  28,  1769.  Boulton  MSS. 
1  "  I  mentioned  to  you  a  method  of 
still  doubling  the  effect  of  the  steam, 
and  that  tolerably  easy,  by  using  the 
power  of  steam  rushing  into  a  vacuum, 
at  present  lost.  This  would  do  a 
little  more  than  double  the  effect,  but 
it  would  too  much  enlarge  the  vessels 
to  use  it  all.  It  is  peculiarly  appli- 
cable to  wheel  engines,  and  may 
supply  the  want  of  a  condenser  where 
force  of  steam  is  only  used ;  for,  open 
one  of  the  steam  valves  and  admit 
steam,  until  one-fourth  of  the  distance 
between  it  and  the  next  valve  is  filled 
with  steam,  shut  the  valve,  and  the 
steam  will  continue  to  expand  and  to 
press  round  the  wheel  with  a  diminish- 
ing power,  ending  in  one-fourth  of  its 
first  exertion.  The  sum  of  this  series 
you  will  find  greater  than  one-half, 
though  only  one-fourth  steam  was 
used.  The  power  will  indeed  be  un- 
equal, but  this  can  be  remedied  by  a 
fly,  or  in  several  other  ways." — Watt 

to  Small,  28th  May,  1769. 




of  condensation.1  The  careful  and  elaborate  manner  in 
which  he  studied  the  specification,  and  the  consideration 
which  he  gave  to  each  of  its  various  details,  are  clear  from 
his  correspondence  with  Dr.  Small,  which  is  peculiarly 
interesting,  as  showing  Watt's  mind  actively  engaged  in 
the  very  process  of  invention.  At  length  the  necessary 
specification  and  drawings  were  completed  and  lodged 
early  in  1769, — a  year  also  remarkable  as  that  in  which 
Arkwright  took  out  the  patent  for  his  spinning- 

In  order  to  master  thoroughly  the  details  of  the  ordi- 
nary Newcornen  engine,  and  to  ascertain  the  extent  of  its 
capabilities  as  well  as  of  its  imperfections,  Watt  under- 
took the  erection  of  several  engines  of  this  construction ; 
and  during  his  residence  at  Kinneil  took  charge  of  the 
Schoolyard  engine  near  Boroughstoness,  in  order  that 
he  might  thereby  acquire  a  full  practical  knowledge  of 
its  working.  Mr.  Hart,  in  his  interesting  'Remi- 
niscences of  James  Watt,'  gives  the  following  account : 
"  My  late  brother  had  learned  from  an  old  man  who  had 
been  a  workman  at  Dr.  Roebuck's  coal-works  when 
Mr.  WTatt  was  there,  that  he  had  erected  a  small  engine 
on  a  pit  they  called  Taylor's  Pit.  The  workman  could 
not  remember  what  kind  of  engine  it  was,  but  it  was 
the  fastest-going  one  he  ever  saw.  From  its  size,  and 
from  its  being  placed  in  a  small  timber-house,  the 
colliers  called  it  '  the  Box  Bed.'  We  thought  it  likely 
to  have  been  the  first  of  the  patent  engines  made  by 

1  He  anticipated  the  use  of  higli- 
pressure  steam,  as  afterwards  em- 
ployed in  the  locomotive  by  Trevi thick, 
in  the  following  passage  : — "  I  intend," 
he  said,  "in  many  cases  to  employ 
the  expansive  force  of  steam  to  press 
on  the  piston,  or  whatever  is  used 

that  the  powers  of  these  engines  will 
as  much  exceed  those  pressed  only  by 
the  air,  as  the  expansive  power  of  the 
steam  is  greater  than  the  weight  of 
the  atmosphere.  In  other  cases, 
when  plenty  of  cold  water  cannot  be 
had,  1  intend  to  work  the  engines  by 

instead  of  one,  in  the  same  manner  as  I  the  force  of  steam  only,  and  to  dis- 
the  weight  of  the  atmosphere  is  now  j  charge  it  into  the  air  by  proper  outlets 
employed  in  common  fire-engines.     In    after  it  has  done  its  office." — Watt  to 
some  cases  I  intend  to  use  both  the     Small,  March,  1769.     Boulton  MSS. 
condenser  and  this  force  of  steam,  so 

L    2 



Mr.  Watt,  and  took  the  opportunity  of  mentioning  this 
to  him  at  our  interview.  He  said  he  had  erected  that 
engine,  but  he  did  not  wish  at  the  time  to  venture  on  a 
patent  one  until  he  had  a  little  more  experience."  l 

At  length  he  proceeded 
to  erect  the  trial  engine 
after  his  new  patent,  and 
made  arrangements  to 
stay  at  Kinneil  until  the 
work  was  finished.  It  had 
been  originally  intended 
to  erect  it  in  the  little  town 
of  Boroughstoness  ;  but 
as  prying  eyes  might  have 
there  watched  his  pro- 
ceedings, and  as  he  wished 
to  avoid  display,  being 
determined,  as  he  said, 
"not  to  puff,"  he  fixed 
upon  an  outhouse  behind 
Kinneil,  close  by  the  burn- 
side  in  the  glen,  where 
there  was  abundance  of 
water  and  secure  pri- 
vacy. The  materials  were 
brought  to  the  place, 
partly  from  Watt's  small 
works  at  Glasgow,  and 
partly  from  Carron,  where 
the  cylinder  —  of  eighteen 
inches  diameter  and  five 


-  had 

cast  ;  and  a  few  workmen  were  placed  at  his  disposal. 
The  process  of  erection  was  very  tedious,  owing  to 

1  Mr.   Hart's    "  Reminiscences    of  James  Watt,' 
Glasgow  Archaeological  Society,'  Part  1.  1859. 

in  '  Transactions  of  the 


the  clumsiness  of  the  mechanics  employed  on  the  job. 
Watt  was  occasionally  compelled  to  be  absent  on  other 
business,  and  on  his  return  he  usually  found  the  men 
at  a  standstill,  not  knowing  what  to  do  next.  As 
the  engine  neared  completion,  his  "  anxiety  for  his 
approaching  doom"  kept  him  from  sleep ;  for  his  fears, 
as  he  said,  were  at  least  equal  to  his  hopes.  He  was 
easily  cast  down  by  little  obstructions,  and  especially 
discouraged  by  unforeseen  expense.  Roebuck,  on  the 
contrary,  was  hopeful  and  energetic,  and  often  took 
occasion  to  rally  the  other  on  his  despondency  under 
difficulties,  and  his  almost  painful  want  of  confidence  in 
himself.  Roebuck  was,  doubtless,  of  much  service  to  Watt 
in  encouraging  him  to  proceed  with  his  invention,  and 
also  in  suggesting  some  important  modifications  in  the 
construction  of  the  engine.  It  is  probable,  indeed,  that 
but  for  his  help,  Watt  could  not  have  gone  on.  Robison 
says,  "  I  remember  Mrs.  Roebuck  remarking  one  even- 
ing, '  Jamie  is  a  queer  lad,  and,  without  the  Doctor,  his 
invention  would  have  been  lost ;  but  Dr.  Roebuck  won't 
let  it  perish.' " 

The  new  engine,  on  which  Watt  had  expended  so 
much  labour,  anxiety,  and  ingenuity,  was  completed 
in  September,  1759,  about  six  months  from  the  date 
of  its  commencement.  But  its  success  was  far  from 
decided.  Watt  himself  declared  it  to  be  "a  clumsy 
job."  His  new  arrangement  of  the  pipe-condenser 
did  not  work  well ;  and  the  cylinder  having  been 
badly  cast,  was  found  almost  useless.  One  of  his  greatest 
difficulties  consisted  in  keeping  the  piston  tight.  He 
wrapped  it  round  with  cork,  oiled  rags,  tow,  old  hat, 
paper,  horse-dung,  and  other  things,  but  still  there  were 
open  spaces  left,  sufficient  to  let  the  air  in  and  the 
steam  out.  Watt  was  grievously  depressed  by  his  want 
of  success,  and  he  had  serious  thoughts  of  giving  up  the 
thing  altogether.  Before  abandoning  it,  however, 
the  engine  was  again  thoroughly  overhauled,  many 


improvements  were  introduced  in  it,  and  a  new  trial 
was  made  of  its  powers.  But  this  proved  not  more 
successful  than  the  earlier  ones  had  been.  "  You  cannot 
conceive,"  he  wrote  to  Small,  "  how  mortified  I  am  with 
this  disappointment.  It  is  a  damned  thing  for  a  man 
to  have  his  all  hanging  by  a  single  string.  If  I  had 
wherewithal  to  pay  the  loss,  I  don't  think  I  should  so 
much  fear  a  failure ;  but  I  cannot  bear  the  thought  of 
other  people  becoming  losers  by  my  schemes ;  and  I 
have  the  happy  disposition  of  always  painting  the 

Watt  was  therefore  bound  to  prosecute  his  project  by 
honour  not  less  than  by  interest;  and  summoning  up 
his  courage,  he  went  on  with  it  anew.  He  continued 
to  have  the  same  confidence  as  ever  in  the  principles  of 
his  engine  :  where  it  broke  down  was  in  workmanship. 
Could  mechanics  but  be  found  capable  of  accurately 
executing  its  several  parts,  he  believed  that  its  success 
was  certain.  But  there  were  no  such  mechanics  then  at 

By  this  time  Eoebuck  was  becoming  embarrassed 
with  debt,  and  involved  in  various  difficulties.  The 
pits  were  drowned  with  water,  which  no  existing 
machinery  could  pump  out,  and  ruin  threatened  to  over- 
take him  before  Watt's  engine  could  come  to  his  help. 
He  had  sunk  in  the  coal-mine,  not  only  his  own  for- 
tune, but  much  of  the  property  of  his  relatives ;  and 
he  was  so  straitened  for  money  that  he  was  unable 
to  defray  the  cost  of  taking  out  the  engine  patent 
according  to  the  terms  of  his  engagement,  and  Watt 
had  accordingly  to  borrow  the  necessary  money  from 
his  never-failing  friend,  Dr.  Black.  He  was  thus 
adding  to  his  own  debts,  without  any  clearer  prospect 
before  him  of  ultimate  relief.  No  wonder  that  he  should, 
after  his  apparently  fruitless  labour,  express  to  Small  his 
belief  that,  "  of  all  things  in  life,  there  is  nothing  more 
foolish  than  inventing."  The  unhappy  state  of  his  mind 


may  be  further  inferred  from  his  lamentation  expressed 
to  the  same  friend  on  the  31st  of  January,  1770.  "  To- 
day," said  he,  "  I  enter  the  thirty-fifth  year  of  my  life, 
and  I  think  I  have  hardly  yet  done  thirty-five  pence 
worth  of  good  in  the  world ;  but  I  cannot  help  it." 

Notwithstanding  the  failure  of  his  engine  thus  far, 
and  the  repeated  resolution  expressed  to  Small  that  he 
would  invent  no  more,  leading,  as  inventing  did,  to  only 
vexation,  failure,  loss,  and  increase  of  head-ache,  Watt 
could  not  control  his  irrepressible  instinct  to  invent; 
and  whether  the  result  might  be  profitable  or  not,  his 
mind  went  on  as  before,  working,  scheming,  and 
speculating.  Thus,  at  different  times  in  the  course  of 
his  correspondence  with  Small,  who  was  a  man  of  a 
like  ingenious  turn  of  mind,  we  find  him  communi- 
cating various  new  things,  "  gimcracks,"  as  he  termed 
them,  which  he  had  contrived.  He  was  equally  ready 
to  contrive  a  cure  for  smoky  chimneys,  a  canal  sluice 
for  economising  water,  a  method  of  determining  "the 
force  necessary  to  dredge  up  a  cubic  foot  of  mud  under 
any  given  depth  of  water,"  and  a  means  of  "clear- 
ing the  observed  distance  of  the  moon  from  any  given 
star  of  the  effects  of  refraction  and  parallax ; "  illustrat- 
ing his  views  by  rapid  but  graphic  designs  embodied 
in  the  text  of  his  letters  to  Small  and  other  corre- 
spondents. One  of  his  minor  inventions  was  a  new 
method  of  readily  measuring  distances  by  means  of  a 
telescope.1  At  the  same  time  he  was  occupied  in 
making  experiments  on  kaolin,  with  the  intention  of 
introducing  the  manufacture  of  porcelain  in  the  pottery 
work  on  the  Broomielaw,  in  which  he  was  a  partner. 

1  The  telescope  was  mounted  with 
two  parallel  horizontal  hairs  in  the 
focus  of  the  eyeglass,  crossed  by  one 
perpendicular  hair.  The  measuring 
pole  was  divided  into  feet  and  inches, 
so  that,  wrote  Watt,  "  if  the  hairs 
comprehend  one  foot  at  one  chain  dis- 

tance, they  will  comprehend  ten  feet 
at  ten  chains,"  and  so  on.  This  in- 
vention Watt  made  in  1770,  and  used 
the  telescope  in  his  various  surveys. 
Eight  years  later,  in  1778,  the  Society 
of  Arts  awarded  to  a  Mr.  Green  a  pre- 
mium for  precisely  the  same  invention. 




He  was  also  concerned  with  Dr.  Black  and  Dr.  Koe- 
buck  in  pursuing  experiments  with  the  view  of  decom- 
posing sea-salt  by  lime,  and  thereby  obtaining  alkali 
for  purposes  of  commerce.  A  patent  for  the  process 
was  taken  out  by  Dr.  Roebuck,  but  eventually  proved 
a  failure,  like  most  of  his  other  projects.  We  also  find 
Watt  inventing  a  muffling  furnace  for  melting  metals, 
and  sending  the  drawings  to  Mr.  Boulton  at  Birming- 
ham for  trial.  At  other  times  he  was  occupied  with 
Chaillet,  the  Swiss  dyer,  experimenting  on  various 
chemical  substances ;  corresponding  with  Dr.  Black  as 
to  the  new  fluoric  or  spar  acid;  and  at  another  time 
making  experiments  to  ascertain  the  heats  at  which 
water  boils  at  every  inch  of  mercury  from  vacuo  to  air. 
Later  we  find  him  inventing  a  prismatic  micrometer 
for  measuring  distances,  which  he  described  in  con- 
siderable detail  in  his  letters  to  Small.1  He  was  at 
the  same  time  busy  inventing  and  constructing  a  new 
surveying  quadrant  by  reflection,  and  making  improve- 
ments in  barometers  and  hygrometers.  "  I  should  like 
to  know,"  he  wrote  to  Small,  "  the  principles  of  your 
barometer  :  De  Luc's  hygrometer  is  nonsense.  Pro- 
bavi"  Another  of  his  contrivances  was  his  dividing- 
screw,  for  dividing  an  inch  accurately  into  1000  equal 
parts.  He  states  that  he  found  this  screw  exceedingly 
useful,  as  it  saved  him  much  needless  compass-work, 
and,  moreover,  enabled  him  to  divide  lines  into  the 
ordinates  of.  any  curve  whatsoever. 

Such  were  the  multifarious  pursuits  in  which  this 
indefatigable  student  and  inquirer  was  engaged ; 
all  tending  to  cultivate  his  mind  and  advance  his  edu- 
cation, but  comparatively  unproductive,  so  far  as  re- 
garded pecuniary  return.  So  unfortunate,  indeed,  had 

1  Letter  to  Small,  24th  Nov.  1772. 
Watt,  however,  took  no  steps  to  bring 
this  invention  before  the  public,  and 
in  1777,  a  similar  instrument  having 

been  invented  by  Dr.  Maskelyne,  was 
presented  by  him  to  the  Royal  Society. 
Thus  Watt  also  lost  the  credit  of  this 


Watt's  speculations  proved,  that  his  friend  Dr.  Hutton, 
of  Edinburgh,  addressed  to  him  a  New-year's  day  letter, 
with  the  object  of  dissuading  him  from  proceeding 
further  with  his  unprofitable  brain-distressing  work. 
"  A  happy  new  year  to  you  ! "  said  Hutton  ;  "  may  it 
be  fertile  to  you  in  lucky  events,  but  no  new  inven- 
tions ! "  He  went  on  to  say  that  invention  was  only  for 
those  who  live  by  the  public,  and  those  who  from  pride 
choose  to  leave  a  legacy  to  the  public.  It  was  not  a  thing 
likely  to  be  well  paid  for  under  a  system  where  the  rule 
was  to  be  the  best  paid  for  the  work  that  was  easiest 
done.  It  was  of  no  use,  however,  telling  Watt  that  he 
must  not  invent.  One  might  as  well  have  told  Burns 
that  he  was  not  to  sing  because  it  would  not  pay,  or 
Wilkie  that  he  was  not  to  paint,  or  Hutton  himself  that 
he  was  not  to  think  and  speculate  as  to  the  hidden 
operations  of  nature.  To  invent  was  the  natural .  and 
habitual  operation  of  Watt's  intellect,  and  he  could  not 
restrain  it. 

Watt  had  already  been  too  long  occupied  with  this 
profitless  work  :  his  money  was  all  gone ;  he  was  in 
debt ;  and  it  behoved  him  to  turn  to  some  other  em- 
ployment by  which  he  might  provide  for  the  indispen- 
sable wants  of  his  family.  Having  now  given  up  the 
instrument-making  business,  he  confined  himself  almost 
entirely  to  surveying.  Among  his  earliest  surveys  was 
one  of  a  coal  canal  from  Monkland  to  Glasgow,  in 
1769;  and  the  Act  authorising  its  construction  was 
obtained  in  the  following  year.  Watt  was  invited  to 
superintend  the  execution  of  the  works,  and  he  had 
accordingly  to  elect  whether  he  would  go  on  with  the 
engine  experiments,  the  event  of  which  was  doubtful, 
or  embrace  an  honourable  and  perhaps  profitable  em- 
ployment, attended  with  much  less  risk  and  uncertainty. 
His  necessities  decided  him.  "  I  had,"  he  said,  "  a  wife 
and  children,  and  saw  myself  growing  grey  without 
having  any  settled  way  of  providing  for  them."  He 


accordingly  accepted  the  appointment  offered  him  by 
the  directors  of  the  canal,  and  undertook  to  super- 
intend the  construction  of  the  works  at  a  salary  of 
200/.  a  year.  At  the  same  time  he  determined  not  to 
drop  the  engine,  but  to  proceed  with  it  at  such  leisure 
moments  as  he  could  command. 

The  Monkland  Canal  was  a  small  concern,  and  Watt 
had  to  undertake  a  variety  of  duties.  He  acted  at  the 
same  time  as  surveyor,  superintendent,  engineer,  and 
treasurer,  assisted  only  by  a  clerk.  But  the  appoint- 
ment proved  useful  to  him.  The  salary  he  earned 
placed  his  family  above  want,  and  the  out-doors  life 
he  was  required  to  lead  improved  his  health  and 
spirits.  After  a  few  months  he  wrote  Dr.  Small  that 
he  found  himself  more  strong,  more  resolute,  less  lazy, 
and  less  confused,  than  when  he  began  the  occupa- 
tion. His  pecuniary  affairs  were  also  more  promising. 
"  Supposing  the  engine  to  stand  good  for  itself,"  he 
said,  "I  am  able  to  pay  all  my  debts  and  some  little 
thing  more,  so  that  I  hope  in  time  to  be  on  a  par  with 
the  world."  But  there  was  a  dark  side  to  the  picture. 
His  occupation  exposed  him  to  fatigue,  vexation,  hun- 
ger, wet,  and  cold.  Then,  the  quiet  and  secluded 
habits  of  his  early  life  did  not  fit  him  for  the  out-door 
work  of  the  engineer.  He  was  timid  and  reserved, 
and  had  nothing  of  the  navvy  in  his  nature.  He  had 
neither  the  roughness  of  tongue  nor  stiffness  of  back 
to  enable  him  to  deal  with  rude  labour  gangs.  He 
was  nervously  fearful  lest  his  want  of  practical  ex- 
perience should  betray  him  into  scrapes,  and  lead  to 
impositions  on  the  part  of  his  workmen.  He  hated 
higgling,  and  declared  that  he  would  rather  "  face  a 
loaded  cannon  than  settle  an  account  or  make  a  bargain." 
He  had  been  "  cheated,"  he  said,  "  by  undertakers,  and 
was  unlucky  enough  to  know  it." 

Watt  continued  to  act  as  engineer  for  the  Monkland 




Canal  Company  for  about  a  year  and  a  half,1  during 
which  he  was  employed  in  other  engineering  works. 
Among  these  was  a  survey  of  the  river  Clyde,  with  a 
view  to  the  improvement  of  the  navigation.  Watt 
sent  in  his  report;  but  no  steps  were  taken  to  carry 
out  his  suggestions  until  several  years  later,  when  the 
beginning  was  made  of  a  series  of  improvements,  which 
have  resulted  in  the  conversion  of  the  Clyde  from  a 
pleasant  trouting  and  salmon  stream  into  one  of  the 
busiest  navigable  highways  in  the  world.2 

Among  Watt's  other  labours  about  the  same  period 
may  be  mentioned  his  survey  of  a  canal  between  Perth 
and  Cupar  Angus,  through  Strathmore ;  of  the  Crinan 
Canal,  afterwards  carried  out  by  Rennie ;  and  other 
projects  in  the  western  highlands.  The  Strathmore 
Canal  survey  was  conducted  at  the  instance  of  the  Com- 
missioners of  Forfeited  Estates.  It  was  forty  miles  long, 
through  a  very  rough  country.  Watt  set  out  to  make 
it  in  September,  1770,  and  was  accompanied  by  snow- 
storms through  almost  the  entire  survey.  He  suffered 
severely  from  the  cold  :  the  winds  swept  down  from 
the  Grampians  with  fury  and  chilled  him  to  the  bone. 
The  making  of  this  survey  occupied  him  forty-three 
days,  and  the  remuneration  he  received  for  it  was 
only  eighty  pounds,  which  included  expenses.  The 
small  pay  of  engineers  at  that  time  may  be  further 
illustrated  by  the  fee  paid  him  in  the  same  year  for 

1  The  Company  afterwards  came  to 
grief.      The  original  subscription  list 
was  not  rilled  up,  and  the  stagnation 
in  trade  which  took  place  at  the  out- 
break of  the  American  war,  brought 
the  works  to  a  standstill.      In  1782 
the  concern  was  sold  to  the  Messrs. 
Stirling,  who  eventually  became  the 
sole  proprietors  and  finished  the  un- 

2  There  was  then  a  ford  at  Dumbuck, 
a  few  miles  below  Glasgow,  which  pre- 
vented boats  of  more  than  ten  tons 

burden  ascending  to  the  Broomielaw. 
This  was  shortly  after  removed  by 
the  Clyde  Trust,  who  have  expended 
3,564,3971.  in  improvement  of  the 
navigation  between  1770  and  1863, 
the  revenue  collected  during  the  same 
time  in  dues  having  been  2,288,000?. 
Vessels  drawing  21  feet  can  now  ascend 
to  the  Broomielaw ;  and  when  the  pre- 
sent improvements  are  completed  the 
depth  at  high  water  is  expected  to  be 
upwards  of  24  feet. 




supplying  the  magistrates  of  Hamilton  with  a  design 
for  the  proposed  new  bridge  over  the  Clyde  at  that 
town.  It  was  originally  intended  to  employ  Mr. 
Smeaton ;  but  as  his  charge  was  ten  pounds,  which 
was  thought  too  high,  Watt  was  employed  in  his 
stead.  The  Burgh  minutes  record  that,  after  the  Act 
had  been  obtained  in  1770,  Baillie  Naismith  was  ap- 
pointed to  proceed  to  Glasgow  to  see  Mr.  Watt  on  the 
subject  of  a  design,  and  his  charge  being  only  7/.  7s., 
he  was  requested  to  supply  it  accordingly.  "  I  have 
lately,"  wrote  Watt  to  Small,  "  made  a  plan  and  estimate 
of  a  bridge  over  our  river  Clyde,  eight  miles  above 


this  :  it  is  to  be  of  five  arches  and  220  feet  waterway, 
founded  upon  piles  on  a  muddy  bottom."  '  The  bridge, 
after  Watt's  plan,  was  begun  in  1771,  but  it  was  not 
finished  until  1780.2 

About  the  same  time  Watt  prepared  plans  of  docks 
and  piers  at  Port  Glasgow,  and  of  a  new  harbour  at 

1  Watt  to  Small,  21st  Dec.  1770. 
Boulton  MSS. 

2  The    bridge    was    partially    de- 
stroyed by  a  flood  in  1806,  when  oue 

of  the  central  piers  was  thrown  down. 
Two  of  the  arches  fell,  and  were  re- 
built, but  the  others  stand  as  origi- 
nally constructed. 


Ayr.  The  Port  Glasgow  works  were  carried  out,  but 
those  at  Ayr  were  postponed.  When  Eennie  came  to 
examine  the  design  for  the  improvement  of  the  Ayr 
navigation,  of  which  the  new  harbour  formed  part,  he 
took  objections  to  it,  principally  because  of  the  parallelism 
of  the  piers,  and  another  plan  was  eventually  adopted. 
His  principal  engineering  job,  and  the  last  of  the  kind 
on  which  Watt  was  engaged  in  Scotland,  was  a  survey 
of  the  Caledonian  Canal,  long  afterwards  carried  out 
by  Telford.  The  survey  was  made  in  the  autumn  of 
1773,  through  a  country  without  roads.  "  An  incessant 
rain,"  said  he,  "  kept  me  for  three  days  as  wet  as  water 
could  make  me ;  I  could  hardly  preserve  my  journal 

In  the  midst  of  this  dreary  work,  Watt  was  summoned 
to  Glasgow  by  the  intelligence  which  reached  him  of  the 
illness  of  his  wife ;  and  when  he  reached  home  he  found 
that  she  had  died  in  childbed.1  Of  all  the  heavy  blows 
he  had  suffered,  this  he  felt  to  be  the  worst.  His  wife 
had  struggled  with  him  through  poverty  ;  she  had  often 
cheered  his  fainting  spirit  when  borne  down  by  doubt, 
perplexity,  and  disappointment ;  and  now  she  was  gone, 
without  being  able  to  share  in  his  good  fortune  as  she 
had  done  in  his  adversity.  For  some  time  after,  when 
about  to  enter  his  humble  dwelling,  he  would  pause  on 
the  threshold,  unable  to  summon  courage  to  enter  the 
room  where  he  was  never  more  to  meet  "  the  comfort  of 
his  life."  "  Yet  this  misfortune,"  he  wrote  to  Small, 
"  might  have  fallen  upon  me  when  I  had  less  ability  to 
bear  it,  and  my  poor  children  might  have  been  left 
suppliants  to  the  mercy  of  the  wide  world." 

Watt  tried  to  forget  his  sorrow,  as  was  his  custom,  in 

1  The  child  was  stillborn.  Of  four 
other  children  who  were  the  fruit  of 
this  marriage,  two  died  young.  A 
son  and  daughter  survived  ;  the  son, 
James,  succeeded  his  father,  and  died 
unmarried,  at  Aston  Hall,  near  Bir-  , 

mingham,  in  1848.  The  daughter 
married  Mr.  Miller,  of  Glasgow,  whose 
grandson,  the  present  J.  W.  Gibson 
Watt,  Esq.,  succeeded  to  the  Watt 



increased  application  to  work,  though  the  recovery  of 
the  elasticity  of  his  mind  was  in  a  measure  beyond 
the  power  of  his  will.  There  were,  at  that  time,  very 
few  bright  spots  in  his  life.  A  combination  of  unfortu- 
nate circumstances  threatened  to  overwhelm  him.  No 
further  progress  had  yet  been  made  with  his  steam- 
engine,  which  he  almost  cursed  as  the  cause  of  his  mis- 
fortunes. Dr.  Eoebuck's  embarrassments  had  reached 
their  climax.  He  had  fought  against  the  water  which 
drowned  his  coal  until  he  could  fight  no  more,  and  he 
was  at  last  delivered  into  the  hands  of  his  creditors  a 
ruined  man.  "  My  heart  bleeds  for  him,"  said  Watt, 
"but  I  can  do  nothing  to  help  him.  I  have  stuck  by 
him,  indeed,  till  I  have  hurt  myself." 

But  the  darkest  hour  is  nearest  the  dawn.  Watt  had 
passed  through  a  long  night,  and  a  gleam  of  sunshine  at 
last  beamed  upon  him.  Matthew  Boulton,  of  Birmingham, 
was  at  length  persuaded  to  take  up  the  invention  on 
which  Watt  had  expended  so  many  of  the  best  years 
of  his  life,  and  the  turning-point  in  Watt's  fortunes  had 

PORT    GLASGOW      [  By  K    P.   LeilcL  ] 

/•,'h<} rawed/ by  W  Ho  tt>,  after  th*  vLt  by  Sir  W£  techy.  JR.  A 

Pub  Lushed/  by  Johsi/  Murray  Alkanai 



SIRMINGHAM.     [By   t'ercival   Skelton.j 




FROM  an  early  period,  Birmingham  has  been  one  of  the 
principal  centres  of  mechanical  industry  in  England. 
The  neighbourhood  abounds  in  coal  and  iron,  and  has 
long  been  famous  for  the  skill  of  its  artisans.  Swords 
were  forged  there  in  the  time  of  the  Ancient  Britons. 
The  first  guns  made  in  England  bore  the  Birmingham 
mark.  In  1538  Leland  found  "many  smiths  in  the 
town  that  use  to  make  knives  and  all  manner  of  cutting 
tools,  and  many  loriners  that  make  bittes,  and  a  great 
many  nailers."  About  a  century  later  Camden  described 
the  place  as  "  full  of  inhabitants,  and  resounding  with 
hammers  and  anvils,  for  the  most  part  of  them  smiths." 
As  the  skill  of  the  Birmingham  artisans  increased,  they 
gradually  gave  up  the  commoner  kinds  of  smithery,  and 
devoted  themselves  to  ornamental  metal-work,  in  brass, 
steel,  and  iron.  They  became  celebrated  for  their 
manufacture  of  buckles,  buttons,  and  various  fancy 
articles ;  and  they  turned  out  such  abundance  of  toys 
that  towards  the  close  of  last  century  Burke  characterised 
Birmingham  as  "  the  great  toy-shop  of  Europe." 

The  ancient  industry  of  Birmingham  was  of  a  staid 
and  steady  character,  in  keeping  with  the  age.  Each 
manufacturer  kept  within  the  warmth  of  his  own  forge. 
He  did  not  go  in  search  of  orders,  but  waited  for  the 
orders  to  come  to  him.  Ironmongers  brought  their 
money  in  their  saddle-bags,  took  away  the  goods  in  ex- 
change, or  saw  them  packed  ready  for  the  next  waggon 
before  they  left.  Notwithstanding  this  quiet  way  of 
doing  business,  many  comfortable  fortunes  were  made  in 



the  place ;  the  manufacturers,  like  their  buttons,  moving 
off  so  soon  as  they  had  received  the  stamp  and  the  gilt. 
Hutton,  the  Birmingham  bookseller,  says  he  knew  men 
who  left  the  town  in  chariots  who  had  first  approached 
it  on  foot.  Hutton  himself  entered  the  town  a  poor 
boy,  and  lived  to  write  its  history,  and  make  a  fortune 
by  his  industry. 

Until  towards  the  end  of  last  century  the  town  was 
not  very  easy  of  approach  from  any  direction.  The 
roads  leading  to  it  had  become  worn  by  the  traffic  of 
many  generations.  The  hoofs  of  the  pack-horses,  helped 
by  the  rains,  had  deepened  the  tracks  in  the  sandy  soil, 
until  in  many  places  they  were  twelve  or  fourteen  feet 
deep,  so  that  it  was  said  of  travellers  that  they  ap- 
proached the  town  by  sap.  One  of  these  old  hollow 
roads,  still^  called  Holloway-head,  though  now  filled 
up,  was  so  deep  that  a  waggon-load  of  hay  might  pass 
along  it  without  being  seen.  There  was  no  direct  com- 
munication between  Birmingham  and  London  until 
about  the  middle  of  the  century.  Before  then,  the 
Great  Road  from  London  to  Chester  passed  it  four 
miles  off,  and  the  Birmingham  manufacturer,  when 
sending  wares  to  London,  had  to  forward  his  package 
to  Castle  Bromwich,  there  to  await  the  approach  of  the 
packhorse  train  or  the  stage-waggon  journeying  south. 
The  Birmingham  men,  however,  began  to  wake  up,  and 
in  1747  a  coach  was  advertised  to  run  to  London  in  two 
days  "  if  the  roads  permit."  Twenty  years  later  a  stage- 
waggon  was  put  on,  and  the  communication  by  coach 
became  gradually  improved. 

When  Hutton  entered  Birmingham  in  1740,  he  was 
struck  by  the  activity  of  the  place  and  the  vivacity  of 
the  inhabitants,  which  expressed  itself  in  their  looks  as 
he  passed  them  in  the  streets.  "  I  had,"  he  says,  "  been 
among  dreamers,  but  now  I  saw  men  awake.  Their 
very  step  showed  alacrity.  Every  man  seemed  to  know 
and  to  prosecute  his  own  affairs."  The  Birmingham 




men  were  indeed  as  alert  as  they  looked — steady 
workers  and  clever  mechanics — men  who  struck  hard 
on  the  anvil.  The  artisans  of  the  place  had  the  ad- 
vantage of  a  long  training  in  mechanical  skill.  It  had 
'been  bred  in  their  bone,  and  descended  to  them  from 
their  fathers  as  an  inheritance.1  In  no  town  in  England 
were  there  then  to  be  found  so  many  mechanics  capable 
of  executing  entirely  new  work ;  nor,  indeed,  has  the 
ability  yet  departed  from  them,  the  Birmingham  artisans 
maintaining  their  individual  superiority  in  intelligent 
execution  of  skilled  work  to  the  present  day.  We  are 
informed  that  inventors  of  new  machines,  foreign  as 
well  as  English,  are  still  in  the  practice  of  resorting 
to  them  for  the  purpose  of  getting  their  inventions  em- 
bodied in  the  best  forms,  with  greater  chances  of  success 
than  in  any  other  town  in  England. 

About  the  middle  of  last  century  the  two  Boultons, 
father  and  son,  were  recognised  as  among  the  most  en- 
terprising and  prosperous  of  Birmingham  manufac- 
turers. The  father  of  the  elder  Matthew  Boulton  was 
John  Boulton  of  Northamptonshire,  in  which  county 
Boultons  or  Boltons  have  been  settled  for  a  long  period, 
and  where  there  are  records  of  many  clergymen  of  the 
name.  About  the  end  of  the  seventeenth  century,  this 
John  Boulton  settled  at  Lichfield,  where  he  married 
Elizabeth,  heir  of  Matthew  Dyott  of  Stitchbrooke,  by 
whom  he  obtained  considerable  property.  His  means 
must,  however,  have  become  reduced;  in  consequence 

1  There  seems  reason  to  believe  that 
the  capacity  for  skilled  industry  is  to 
a  certain  extent  transmissible ;  and 
that  the  special  aptitude  for  mechanics 
which  characterises  the  population  of 
certain  districts,  is  in  a  great  measure 
the  result  of  centuries  of  experience, 
transmitted  from  one  generation  to 
another.  Mr.  Morell  takes  the  same 
view :  "  We  have  every  reason  to 
believe,"  he  says,  "  that  the  power  of 
specialised  instincts  is  transmitted, 

and  when  the  circumstances  favour  it, 
goes  on  increasing  from  age  to  age  in 
intensity,  and  in  a  particular  adapta- 
tion to  the  purposes  demanded.  All 
confirmed  habits  which  become  a  part 
of  the  animal  nature,  seem  to  be  im- 
parted by  hereditary  descent;  and 
thus  what  seems  to  be  an  original 
instinct  may,  after  all,  be  but  the 
accumulated  growth  and  experience  of 
many  generations." 

M    2 


of  which  his  son  Matthew  was  sent  to  Birmingham  to 
enter  upon  a  career  of  business,  and  make  his  own 
way  in  the  world.  He  became  established  in  the  place 
as  a  silver  stamper  and  piecer,  to  which  he  added  other 
branches  of  manufacture,  which  his  son  Matthew  after- 
wards largely  extended. 

Matthew  Boulton  the  younger  was  born  at  Birming- 
ham on  the  3rd  September,  1728.  Little  is  known  of 
his  early  life,  beyond  that  he  was  a  bright,  clever  boy, 
and  a  general  favourite  with  his  companions.  He  re- 
ceived his  principal  education  at  a  private  academy  at 
Deritend,  kept  by  the  Eev.  Mr.  Ansted,  under  whom 
he  acquired  the  rudiments  of  a  good  ordinary  English 
education.  Though  he  left  school  early  for  the  purpose 
of  following  his  father's  business,  he  nevertheless  con- 
tinued the  work  of  self-instruction,  and  afterwards 
acquired  considerable  knowledge  of  Latin  and  French, 
as  well  as  of  drawing  and  mathematics.  But  his  chief 
pleasure  was  in  pursuing  the  study  of  chemistry  and 
mechanics,  in  which,  as  we  shall  shortly  find,  he  became 
thoroughly  accomplished.  Long  after  he  joined  his 
father  in  business,  he  delighted  to  revert  to  his  classical 
favourites.  From  an  entry  in  his  private  memorandum- 
book  of  expenses  at  the  age  of  about  thirty,  though  then 
very  economical  in  other  respects,  we  find  him  ex- 
pending considerable  sums  in  experiments  on  electricity, 
and  on  one  occasion  laying  out  a  guinea  on  a  copy  of 
Yirgil,  from  which  it  appears  that  trade  had  not  spoilt 
his  taste  for  either  science  or  letters. 
.  Young  Boulton  appears  to  have  engaged  in  business 
with  much  spirit.  By  the  time  he  was  seventeen  he 
had  introduced  several  important  improvements  in  the 
manufacture  of  buttons,  watch-chains,  and  other  trinkets ; 
and  he  had  invented  the  inlaid  steel  buckles  which 
shortly  after  became  the  fashion.  These  buckles  were 
exported  in  large  quantities  to  France,  from  whence 
they  were  brought  back  to  England  and  sold  as  the 


most  recent  productions  of  French  ingenuity.  The 
elder  Boulton,  having  every  confidence  in  his  son's  dis- 
cretion and  judgment,  adopted  him  as  a  partner  so  soon 
as  he  came  of  age,  and  from  that  time  forward  he  took 
almost  the  entire  management  of  the  concern.  Although 
in  his  letters  he  signed  "  for  father  and  self,"  he  always 
spoke  in  the  first  person  of  matters  connected  with  the 
business.  Thus,  in  1757,  we  find  him  writing  to 
Timothy  Holies,  London,  as  to  the  prices  of  "  coat-link 
and  vest  buttons,"  intimating  that  to  lower  them  would 
be  to  beat  down  price  and  quality  until  it  became  no 
business  at  all ;  "  yet,"  said  he,  "  as  I  have  put  myself 
to  greater  expense  than  anybody  else  in  erecting  the 
best  conveniences  and  the  completest  tools  for  the  pur- 
pose, I  am  not  willing  that  any  interlopers  should  run 
away  with  it."  We  find  him  at  the  same  time  carrying 
on  a  correspondence  with  Benjamin  Huntsman,  of  Shef- 
field, the  celebrated  inventor  of  cast-steel.1  On  the  19th 
January,  1757,  he  sends  Huntsman  "a  parcel  of  goods 
of  the  newest  patterns,"  and  at  the  same  time  orders  a 
quantity  of  Huntsman's  steel.  "When  thou  hast  some 
of  a  proper  size  and  quality  for  me,  and  an  opportunity 
of  sending  it,  thou  may'st,  but  I  should  be  glad  to  have 
it  a  little  tougher  than  the  last."  He  concludes — "  I 
hope  thy  Philosophic  Spirit  still  laboureth  within  thee, 
and  may  it  soon  bring  forth  Fruit  useful  to  mankind, 
but  more  particularly  to  thyself,  is  the  sincere  wish  of 
Thy  Obliged  Friend."  With  a  view  to  economy,  Boul- 
ton in  course  of  time  erected  a  steel-house  of  his  own 
for  the  purpose  of  making  steel ;  and  he  frequently  used 
it  to  convert  the  cuttings  and  scraps  of  the  small  iron 
wares  which  he  manufactured,  into  ordinary  steel,  after- 
wards melting  and  converting  it  into  cast-steel  in  the 
usual  way. 

From  the  earliest  glimpses  we  can  get  of  Boulton  as  a 

For  .Memoir  of  Huntsman,  see  'Industrial  Biography,'  102-110. 


man  of  business,  it  would  appear  to  have  been  his  aim 
to  be  at  the  top  of  whatsoever  branch  of  manufacture  he 
undertook.  He  endeavoured  to  produce  the  best  pos- 
sible articles  in  regard  of  design,  material,  and  work- 
manship. Taste  was  then  at  a  low  ebb,  and  "  Brum- 
magem "  had  become  a  byword  for  everything  that  was 
gaudy,  vulgar,  and  meretricious.  Boulton  endeavoured 
to  get  rid  of  this  reproach,  and  aimed  at  raising  the 
standard  of  taste  in  manufacture  to  the  highest  point. 
With  this  object,  he  employed  the  best  artists  to  design 
his  articles,  and  the  cleverest  artisans  to  manufacture 
them.  Apart  from  the  question  of  elevating  the  popular 
taste,  there  can  be  no  doubt  that  this  was  good  policy  on 
his  part,  for  it  served  to  direct  public  attention  to  the 
superior  and  honest  quality  of  the  articles  produced  by 
his  firm,  and  eventually  brought  him  a  large  accession 
of  business. 

In  1759,  Boulton's  father  died,  bequeathing  to  him 
the  considerable  property  which  he  had  accumulated  by 
his  business.  The  year  following,  when  thirty-two 
years  of  age,  Matthew  married  Anne,  the  daughter  of' 
Luke  Robinson,  Esq.,  of  Lichfield.  The  lady  was  a 
distant  relation  of  his  own ;  the  Dyotts  of  Stitchbrooke, 
whose  heir  his  grandfather  had  married,  being  nearly 
related  to  the  Babingtons  of  Curborough,  from  whom 
Miss  Robinson  was  lineally  descended — Luke  Robinson 
having  married  the  daughter  and  co-heir  of  John 
Babington  of  Curborough  and  Patkington.  Consi- 
derable opposition  was  offered  to  the  marriage  by  the 
lady's  friends,  on  account  of  Matthew  Boulton's  occu- 
pation ;  but  he  pressed  his  suit,  and  with  good  looks 
and  a  handsome  presence  to  back  him,  he  eventually 
succeeded  in  winning  the  heart  and  hand  of  Anne 
Robinson.  He  was  now,  indeed,  in  a  position  to  have 
retired  from  business  altogether.  But  a  life  of  inactivity 
had  no  charms  for  him.  He  liked  to  mix  with  men  in 
the  affairs  of  active  life,  and  to  take  his  full  share  in  the 




world's  business.  Indeed,  he  hated  ease  and  idleness, 
and  found  his  greatest  pleasure  in  constant  occupation. 

Instead,  therefore,  of  retiring  from  trade,  he  deter- 
mined to  engage  in  it  more  extensively.  He  entertained 
the  ambition  of  founding  a  manufactory  that  should  be 
the  first  of  its  kind,  and  serve  as  a  model  for  the  manu- 
facturers of  his  neighbourhood.  His  premises  on  Snow- 
hill,1  Birmingham,  having  become  too  small  for  his 
purpose,  he  looked  about  him  for  a  suitable  spot  on 
which  to  erect  more  commodious  workshops ;  and  he 
was  shortly  attracted  by  the  facilities  presented  by  the 
property  afterwards  so  extensively  known  as  the  famous 

Soho  is  about  two  miles  north  of  Birmingham,  on  the 
Wolverhampton  road.  It  is  not  in  the  parish  of  Bir- 
mingham, nor  in  the  county  of  Warwick,  but  just  over 

1  While  on  Snow-hill,  Mr.  Boulton's  I 
business  was   principally  confined  to  | 
the  making  of  buttons,  shoe-buckles,  ' 
articles  in  steel,  and  various  kinds  of 
trinkets.     His    designation   was   that 
of  "  toymaker,"  as  is  shown   by  the 
loll*  > wing   document  copied  from  the 
original  :  —  "  Received     of    Matthew 
Boulton,  toymaker,  Snow-hill,   three 
shillings  and  sixpence,  for  which  sum 
I  solemnly  engage,  if  he   should   be 
chosen  by  lot  to  serve  in  the  militia 
for  this  parish,  at   the  first  meeting 
for  that  purpose,  to  procure  a  substi- 
tute that  shall  be  approved  of.    Bir- 
mingham, January  11,  1762,  Henry 
Brookes,    Sergt."      The    Birmingham 
toymaker  was,  however,  often  a  man  | 
doing  a  large  business,  producing  arti- 
cles of  utility  as  well   as  ornament. 
Mr.  Osier,  the  Birmingham  manufac- 
turer of  glass  beads  and  other  toys,  ! 
when   examined  before  a   Committee  j 
of  the  House  of  Commons  many  years  | 
since,  astonished  the  members  by  in-  | 
forming    them    that    trifling   though  | 
dolls'  eyes  might  appear  to  be  as  an 
article  of  manufacture,  he  had  once 
obtained  an  order  for  500Z.  worth  of 
the  article.      "  Eighteen   years  ago," 
said  he,  "  on  my  first  going  to  London, 

a  respectable-looking  man  in  the  city 
asked  me  if  I  could  supply  him  with 
dolls'  eyes ;  and  I  was  foolish  enough 
to  feel  half  offended ;  I  thought  it  de- 
rogatory to  my  dignity  as  a  manufac- 
turer to  make  dolls'  eyes.  He  took 
me  into  a  room  quite  as  wide,  and 
perhaps  twice  the  length  of  this,  and 
we  had  just  room  to  walk  between 
the  stacks,  from  the  floor  to  the  ceil- 
ing, of  parts  of  dolls.  He  said, 
*  These  are  only  the  legs  and  the 
arms ;  the  trunks  are  below.'  But  I 
saw  enough  to  convince  me,  that  he 
wanted  a  great  many  eyes.  .  .  .  He 
ordered  various  quantities,  and  of 
various  sizes  and  qualities.  On  re- 
turning to  the  Tavistock  Hotel,  I 
found  that  the  order  amounted  to 
upwards  of  500?.  .  .  .  Calculating  on 
every  child  in  this  country  not  using 
a  doll  till  two  years  old,  and  throwing 
it  aside  at  seven,  and  having  a  new 
one  annually,  I  satisfied  myself  that 
the  eyes  alone  would  produce  a  circu- 
lation of  a  great  many  thousand 
pounds.  I  mention  this  merely  to 
show  the  importance  of  trifle?." — 
Babbage,  '  Economy  of  Machinery  and 
Manufactures,'  243-5. 




the  border,  in  the  county  of  Stafford.  Down  to  the 
middle  of  last  century  the  ground  on  which  it  stands 
was  a  barren  heath,  used  only  as  a  rabbit-warren. 
The  sole  dwelling  on  it  was  the  warrener's  hut,  which 
stood  near  the  summit  of  the  hill,  on  the  spot  afterwards 
occupied  by  Soho  House  ;  and  the  warrener's  well  is  still 
to  be  found  in  one  of  the  cellars  of  the  mansion.  In 
1756,  Mr.  Edward  Euston  took  a  lease  of  the  ground 
for  ninety-nine  years  from  Mr.  Wyerley,  the  lord  of 
the  manor,  with  liberty  to  make  a  cut  about  half  a  mile 
in  length  for  the  purpose  of  turning  the  waters  of 
Hockley  Brook  into  a  pool  under  the  brow  of  the  hill. 
The  head  of  water  thus  formed  was  used  to  drive  a 
feeble  mill  below,  which  Mr.  Ruston  had  established  for 
laminating  metals.  He  also  built  a  small  dwelling- 
house  about  150  yards  from  the  mill,  and  expended 
upon  the  place  a  sum  of  about  1000/.  in  all.  When 
Mr.  Boulton  was  satisfied  that  the  place  would  suit  his 
purpose,  he  entered  into  arrangements  with  Mr.  Ruston 
for  the  purchase  of  his  lease,1  on  the  completion  of 
which  he  proceeded  to  rebuild  the  mill  on  a  large  scale, 

1  Mr.  Boulton  afterwards  purchased 
the  fee  simple  of  the  property,  toge- 
ther with  much  of  the  adjoining  land. 
The  nature  of  his  tenure  caused  him 
to  take  a  lively  interest  in  the  ques- 
tion of  common  lands  enclosure,  and  at 
a  much  later  period  (17th  April,  1790) 
we  find  him  writing  to  the  Eight  Hon. 
Lord  Hawkesbury  as  follows : — "  The 
argument  of  robbing  the  poor  [by 
enclosures  of  wastes]  is  fallacious. 
They  have  no  legal  title  to  the 
common  land  ;  and  the  more  of  it  that 
is  cultivated,  the  more  work  and  the 
more  bread  there  will  be  for  them.  I 
speak  from  experience ;  for  I  founded 
my  manufactory  upon  one  of  the  most 
barren  commons  in  England,  where 
there  existed  but  a  few  miserable 
huts  filled  with  idle  beggarly  people, 
who  by  the  help  of  the  common  land 
and  a  little  thieving  made  shift  to 
live  without  working.  The  scene  is 
now  entirely  changed.  I  have  em-  j 

ployed  a  thousand  men,  women,  and 
children,  in  my  aforesaid  manufactory 
for  nearly  thirty  years  past.  The 
Lord  of  the  Manor  hath  exterminated 
these  very  poor  cottages,  and  hundreds 
of  clean  comfortable  cheerful  houses 
are  found  erected  in  their  place.  Thus 
the  inhabitants  of  the  parish  have 
been  trebled  without  at  all  increasing 
the  poor  levies.  I  am  more  confirmed 
in  this  view  when  I  turn  my  eyes  to 
a  neighbouring  parish  (Sutton  Cole- 
field),  where  there  are  10,000  acres  of 
common  land  uncultivated,  and  yet 
the  poor  rates  are  very  high.  Let 
this  land  be  divided,  enclosed,  culti- 
vated, and  rendered  saleable  to  active, 
industrious,  and  spirited  men ;  and 
the  poor  will  then  have  plenty  of 
work,  and  the  next  generation  of  them 
will  be  fully  reconciled  to  earning 
their  bread  instead  of  begging  for  it." 
— Itoulton  MSS. 




and  in  course  of  time  removed  thither  the  whole  of  his 
tools,  machinery,  and  workmen.  The  new  manufactory, 
when  finished,  consisted  of  a  series  of  roomy  workshops 
conveniently  connected  with  each  other,  and  capable  of 
accommodating  upwards  of  a  thousand  workmen.  The 
building  and  stocking  of  the  premises  cost  upwards  of 


Before  removing  to  Soho,  Mr.  Boultoii  took  into 
partnership  Mr.  John  Fothergill,  with  the  object  of 
more  vigorously  extending  his  business  operations.  Mr. 
Fothergill  possessed  a  very  limited  capital,  but  he  was 
a  man  of  good  character  and  active  habits  of  business, 
with  a  considerable  knowledge  of  foreign  markets.  On 
the  occasion  of  his  entering  the  concern,  stock  was  taken 
of  the  warehouse  on  Snow  Hill ;  and  some  idea  of  the 
extent  of  Boulton's  business  at  the  time  may  be  formed 
from  the  fact,  that  his  manager,  Mr.  Zaccheus  Walker, 
assisted  by  Farquharson,  Nuttall,  Frogatt,  and  half-a- 
dozen  labourers,  were  occupied  during  eight  days  in 
weighing  metals,  counting  goods,  and  preparing  an 
inventory  of  the  effects  and  stock  in  trade.  The  part- 




nership  commenced  at  midsummer,  1762,  and  shortly 
after  the  principal  manufactory  was  removed  to  Soho. 

Steps  were  immediately  taken  to  open  up  new  con- 
nexions and  agencies  at  home  and  abroad ;  and  a  large 
business  was  shortly  established  with  many  of  the  prin- 
cipal towns  and  cities  of  Europe,  in  filagree  and  inlaid 
work,  livery  and  other  buttons,  buckles,  clasps,  watch- 
chains,  and  various  kinds  of  ornamental  metal  wares. 
The  firm  shortly  added  the  manufacture  of  silver  plate 
and  plated  goods  to  their  other  branches,1  and  turned 
out  large  quantities  of  candlesticks,  urns,  brackets,  and 
various  articles  in  ormolu.  The  books  of  the  firm  indi- 
cate the  costly  nature  of  their  productions,  500  ounces  of 
silver  being  given  out  at  a  time,  besides  considerable 
quantities  of  gold  and  platina  for  purposes  of  fabrication. 
Boulton  himself  attended  to  the  organization  and 
management  of  the  works  and  to  the  extension  of  the 
trade  at  home,  while  Fothergill  devoted  himself  to 
establishing  and  superintending  the  foreign  agencies. 

From  the  first,  Boulton  aimed  at  establishing  a 
character  for  the  excellence  of  his  productions.  They 
must  not  only  be  honest  in  workmanship,  but  tasteful 
in  design.  He  determined,  so  far  as  in  him  lay,  to 
get  rid  of  the  "Brummagem"  reproach.  Thus  we  find 
him  writing  to  his  partner  from  London  : — "  The  pre- 
judice that  Birmingham  hath  so  justly  established 
against  itself  makes  every  fault  conspicuous  in  all 
articles  that  have  the  least  pretensions  to  taste.  How 
can  I  expect  the  public  to  countenance  rubbish  from 

1  Mr.  Keir,  in  a  MS.  memoir  of 
Mr.  Boulton  now  before  us,  says  lie 
was  the  first  to  introduce  the  silver 
plate  business  at  Birmingham,  and  to 
make  complete  services  in  solid  silver. 
But  the  business  was  not  profitable, 
in  consequence  of  the  great  value  of 
the  material,  the  loss  of  interest  upon 
which  was  not  compensated  by  the 

additional  price  put  upon  it  for  work- 
manship. One  good  consequence  of 
the  silver  plate  business,  however, 
was  the  establishment  of  an  assay 
office  in  Birmingham,  the  necessary 
Act  for  which  was  obtained  at  Mr. 
Boulton's  expense,  and  proved  of  much 
advantage  to  the  town. 


Soho,  while  they  can  procure  sound  and  perfect  work 
from  any  other  quarter  ? " 

He  frequently  went  to  town  for  the  express  purpose 
of  reading  and  making  drawings  of  rare  works  in  metal 
in  the  British  Museum,  sending  the  results,  down  to 
Soho.  When  rare  objects  of  art  were  offered  for  sale, 
he  endeavoured  to  secure  them.  "  I  bid  five  guineas," 
he  wrote  his  partner  on  one  occasion;  "  for  the  Duke  of 
Murlborough's  great  blue  vase,  but  it  sold  for  ten.  .  . 
I  bought  two  bronzed  figures,  which  are  sent  here- 
with." He  borrowed  antique  candlesticks,  vases,  and 
articles  in  metal  from  the  Queen  and  from  various 
members  of  the  nobility.  "  I  wish  Mr.  Eginton,"  he 
wrote,  "  would  take  good  casts  from  the  Hercules  and 
the  Hydra,  and  then  let  it  be  well  gilt  and  returned 
with  the  seven  vases ;  for  'tis  the  Queen's.  I  perceive 
we  shall  want  many  such  figures,  and  therefore  we 
should  omit  no  opportunity  of  taking  good  casts." 
The  Duke  of  Northumberland  lent  Boulton  many  of 
his  most  highly-prized  articles  for  imitation  by  his 
workmen.  Among  his  other  liberal  helpers  in  the  same 
way,  we  find  the  Duke  of  Richmond,  Lord  Shelburne, 
and  the  Earl  of  Dartmouth.  The  Duke  gave  him  an 
introduction  to  Horace  Walpole,  for  the  purpose  of 
enabling  him  to  visit  and  examine  the  art  treasures  of 
Strawberry  Hill.  "  The  vases,"  said  he,  in  writing  to 
Boulton,  "  are,  in  my  opinion,  better  worth  your  seeing 
than  anything  in  England,  and  I  wish  you  would  have 
exact  drawings  of  them  taken,  as  I  may  very  possibly 
like  to  have  them  copied  by  you."  Lord  Shelburne's 
opinion  of  Boulton  may  be  gathered  from  his  letter  to 
Mr.  Adams,  the  architect,  in  which  he  said  : — "  Mr. 
Boulton  is  the  most  enterprising  man  in  different  ways 
in  Birmingham,  and  is  very  desirous  of  cultivating  Mr. 
Adams's  taste  in  his  productions,  and  has  bought  his 
Dioclesian  by  Lord  Shelburne's  advice." 


Boulton,  however,  did  not  confine  himself  to  England  ; 
he  searched  the  Continent  over  for  the  best  specimens 
of  handicraft  as  models  for  imitation ;  and  when  he 
found  them  he  strove  to  equal,  if  not  to  excel  them  in 
style  and  quality.  He  sent  his  agent,  Mr.  Wendler,  on 
a  special  mission  of  this  sort,  to  Venice,  Rome,  and 
other  Italian  cities,  to  purchase  for  him  the  best 
specimens  of  metal-work,  and  obtain  for  him  designs 
of  various  ornaments  —  vases,  cameos,  intaglios,  and 
statuary.  On  one  occasion  we  find  Wendler  sending 
him  456  prints,  Boulton  acknowledging  that  they 
will  prove  exceedingly  useful  for  the  purposes  of  his 
manufacture.  At  the  same  time,  Fothergill  was  travel- 
ling through  France  and  Germany  with  a  like  object, 
while  he  was  also  establishing  new  connexions  with  a 
view  to  extended  trade.1 

While  Boulton  was  ambitious  of  reaching  the  highest 
excellence  in  his  own  line  of  business,  he  did  not  confine 
himself  to  that,  but  was  feeling  his  way  in  various 
directions  outside  of  it.  Thus  to  his  friend  Wedgwood 
he  wrote  on  one  occasion,  that  he  admired  his  vases  so 
much  that  he  "  almost  wished  to  be  a  potter."  At  one 
time,  indeed,  he  had  serious  thoughts  of  beginning  the 
fictile  manufacture ;  but  he  rested  satisfied  with  mount- 
ing in  metal  the  vases  which  Wedgwood  made.  "  The 

1  "  If,  in  the  course  of  your  future  !  in  all   things   that   they   may   have 

travelling,"  he  wrote  Mr.  Wendler 
(July,  1767),  "  you  can  pick  up  for 
me  any  metallic  ores  or  fossil  sub- 
stances, or  any  other  curious  natural 
productions,  I  should  be  much  obliged 
to  you,  as  I  am  fond  of  all  those 
things  that  have  a  tendency  to  im- 
.prove  my  knowledge  in  mechanical 
arts,  in  which  my  manufactory  will 
every  year  become  more  and  more 
general,  and  therefore  wish  to  know 
the  taste,  the  fashions,  the  toys,  both 

occasion  for  —  gold,  silver,  copper, 
plated,  gilt,  pinchbeck,  steel,  platina, 
tortoiseshell,  or  anything  else  that 
may  become  an  article  of  general  de- 
mand. I  have  lately  begun  to  make 
snuff-boxes,  instrument-cases,  tooth- 
picks, &c.,  in  metal,  gilt,  and  in  tor- 
toiseshell inlaid,  likewise  gilt  and 
pinchbeck  watch-chains.  We  are 
now  being  completely  fixed  at  Soho, 
and  when  Mr.  Fothergill  returns 
(which  will  not  be  for  six  months),  I 

useful  and    ornamental,   the    imple-  I  shall  then  have  more  time  to  attend  to 
ments,  vessels,  &c.,  that  prevail  in  all  !  improvements  than  I  have  at  present." 
the   different  parts   of  Europe,   us    I     — Boulton,  MSS. 
should  be  glad  to  work  for  all  Europe 


mounting  of  vases,"  he  wrote,  "  is  a  large  field  for 
fancy,  in  which  I  shall  indulge,  as  I  perceive  it  pos- 
sible to  convert  even  a  very  ugly  vessel  into  a  beautiful 
vase."  ' 

Another  branch  of  business  that  he  sought  to  establish 
was  the  manufacture  of  clocks.  It  was  one  of  his  lead- 
ing ideas,  that  articles  in  common  use  might  be  made 
much  better  and  cheaper  if  manufactured  on  a  large 
scale  with  the  help  of  the  best  machinery ;  and  he 
thought  this  might  be  successfully  done  in  the  making 
of  clocks  and  timepieces.  The  necessary  machinery 
was  erected  accordingly,  and  the  new  branch  of  busi- 
ness was  started.  Some  of  the  timepieces  were  of  an 
entirely  novel  arrangement.  One  of  them,  invented 
by  Dr.  Small,  contained  but  a  single  wheel,  and  was 
considered  a  piece  of  very  ingenious  construction. 
Boulton  also  sought  to  rival  the  French  makers  of 
ornamental  timepieces,  by  whom  the  English  markets 
were  then  almost  entirely  supplied ;  and  some  of  the 
articles  of  this  sort  turned  out  by  him  were  of  great 
beauty.  One  of  his  most  ardent  encouragers  and  ad- 
mirers, the  Hon.  Mrs.  Montagu,  wrote  to  him, — "I 
take  greater  pleasure  in  our  victories  over  the  French 
in  the  contention  of  arts  than  of  arms.  The  achieve- 
ments of  Soho,  instead  of  making  widows  and  orphans, 
make  marriages  and  christenings.  Your  noble  industry, 
while  elevating  the  public  taste,  provides  new  occupa- 

1  Boulton  to  Wedgwood,  January,  \  stupendous  geniuses  of  the  age,  and 
1769. — Wedgwood  was  one  of  his  '  has  really  cut  me  up  very  cleanly.  He 
most  intimate  friends ;  the  two  alike  j  talks,  too,  that  he  should  not  wonder 
aiming  at  excellence  in  their  respec-  if  some  surprising  genius  at  Birming- 

tivc  branches  of  production.  Their 
kindred  efforts  seem  to  have  excited 
the  ire  of  some  satirist,  whose  effusion 
against  them  in  the  '  Public  Ledger  * 
is  thus  referred  to  in  the  postscript  of 
a  letter  from  Wedgwood  to  Boulton, 
dated  19th  February,  1771 :— "  If  you 
take  in  the  '  Public  Ledger'  you'll  see 

ham  should  be  tempted  to  make 
Roman  medals  and  tenpenny  nails, 
or  Corinthian  knives  and  daggers,  and 
style  himself  Roman  medal  and  Etrus- 
can tenpenny  nail-maker  to  the  Em- 
press of  Abyssinia.  But  see  the  paper : 
I  believe  it  is  the  'first  week  in 
February,  and  is  one  of  the  better 

that  Mr.  Antipuffado  has  done  me  the  j  sort  of  this  class." — Boulton  MSS. 
honour   to  rank   me   with   the  most 




tions  for  the  poor,  and  enables  them  to  bring  up  their 
families  in  comfort.  Go  on,  then,  sir,  to  triumph  over 
the  French  in  taste,  and  to  embellish  your  country  with 
useful  inventions  and  elegant  productions." 

Boulton's  efforts  to  improve  the  industrial  arts  did 
not,  however,  always  meet  with  such  glowing  eulogy  as 
this.  Two  of  his  most  highly  finished  astronomical 
clocks  could  not  find  purchasers  at  his  London  sale ;  on 
which  he  wrote  to  his  wife  at  Soho,  "I  find  phi- 
losophy at  a  very  low  ebb  in  London,  and  I  have  there- 
fore brought  back  my  two  fine  clocks,  which  I  will 
send  to  a  market  where  common  sense  is  not  out  of 
fashion.  If  I  had  made  the  clocks  play  jigs  upon  bells, 
and  a  dancing  bear  keeping  time,  or  if  I  had  made  a 
horse-race  upon  their  faces,  I  believe  they  would  have 
had  better  bidders.  I  shall  therefore  bring  them  back 
to  Soho,  and  some  time  this  summer  will  send  them  to 
the  Empress  of  Russia,  who,  I  believe,  would  be  glad 
of  them." l  During  the  same  visit  to .  London,  he 
was  more  successful  with  the  king  and  queen,  who 
warmly  patronised  his  productions.  "The  king,"  he 
wrote  to  his  wife,  "hath  bought  a  pair  of  cassolets, 
a  Titus,  a  Venus  clock,  and  some  other  things,  and 
inquired  this  morning  how  yesterday's  sale  went.  I 
shall  see  him  again,  I  believe.  I  was  with  them,  the 
queen  and  all  the  children,  between  two  and  three 
hours.  There  were,  likewise,  many  of  the  nobility 
present.  Never  was  man  so  much  complimented  as  I 
have  been;  but  I  find  that  compliments  don't  make 
fat  nor  fill  the  pocket.  The  queen  showed  me  her 
last  child,  which  is  a  beauty,  but  none  of  'em  are  equal 

1  The  clocks,  with  several  other 
articles,  were  sent  out  to  Russia,  and 
submitted  to  the  Empress  through 
the  kindness  of  Earl  Cathcart.  His 
lordship,  in  communicating  the  result 
to  Mr.  Boulton,  said — "  I  have  the 
pleasure  to  inform  you  that  her  Im- 

perial Majesty  not  only  bought  them 
all,  last  week,  but  did  me  the  honour 
to  tell  me  that  she  was  extremely 
pleased  with  them,  and  thought  them 
superior  in  every  respect  to  the  French, 
as  well  as  cheaper,  which  entitled 
them  in  all  lights  to  a  preference." 


to  the  General  of  Soho  or  the  fair  Maid  of  the  Mill.1 
God  bless  them  both,  and  kiss  them  for  me." 

In  another  letter  he  described  a  subsequent  visit  to 
the  palace.  "  I  am  to  wait  upon  their  majesties  again 
so  soon  as  our  Tripod  Tea-kitchen  arrives,  and  again 
upon  some  other  business.  The  queen,  I  think,  is  much 
improved  in  her  person,  and  she  now  speaks  English 
like  an  English  lady.  She  draws  very  finely,  is  a  great 
musician,  and  works  with  her  needle  better  than  Mrs, 
Betty.  However,  without  joke,  she  is  extremely  sen- 
sible, very  affable,  and  a  great  patroness  of  English 
manufactures.  Of  this  she  gave  me  a  particular  in- 
stance;  for,  after  the  king  and  she  had  talked  to  me 
for  nearly  three  hours,  they  withdrew,  and  then  the 
queen  sent  for  me  into  her  boudoir,  showed  me  her 
chimney  piece,  and  asked  me  how  many  vases  it  would 
take  to  furnish  it ;  '  for,'  said  she,  '  all  that  china  shall 
be  taken  away.'  She  also  desired  that  I  would  fetch 
her  the  two  finest  steel  chains  I  could  make.  All 
this  she  did  of  her  own  accord,  without  the  presence  of 
the  king,  which  I  could  not  help  putting  a  kind  con- 
struction upon." '' 

Thus  stimulated  by  royal  and  noble  patronage, 
Boulton  exerted  himself  to  the  utmost  to  produce  articles 
of  the  highest  excellence.  Like  his  friend  Wedgwood, 
he  employed  Flaxman  and  other  London  artists  to 
design  his  choicer  goods;  but  he  had  many  foreign 
designers  and  skilled  workmen,  French  and  Italian,  in 
his  regular  employment.  He  attracted  these  men  by 
liberal  wages,  and  kept  them  attached  to  him  by  kind 
and  generous  treatment.  On  one  occasion  we  find  the 
Duke  of  Richmond  applying  to  him  to  recommend  a 
first-class  artist  to  execute  some  special  work  in  metal 
for  him.  Boulton  replies  that  he  can  strongly  recom- 

1  Pet   names  of  his  two  children,     but  we  infer  that  they  were  written 
Matthew  Robinson  and  Anne  Boulton. 

in  the  summer  of  1767. 

2  These   letters   are   without   date, 



mend  one  of  his  own  men,  an  honest,  steady  workman, 
an  excellent  metal  turner.  "  He  hath  made  for  me 
some  exceeding  good  acromatic  telescopes  [another 
branch  of  Boulton's  business].  ...  I  give  him  two 
guineas  a  week  and  a  house  to  live  in.  He  is  a 
Frenchman,  and  formerly  worked  with  the  famous  M. 
Germain ;  he  afterwards  worked  for  the  Academy  of 
Sciences  at  Berlin,  and  he  hath  worked  upwards  of 
two  years  for  me."  ] 

Before  many  years  had  passed,  Soho  was  spoken  of 
with  pride,  as  one  of  the  best  schools  of  skilled  industry 
in  England.  Its  fame  extended  abroad  as  well  as  at 
home,  and  when  distinguished  foreigners  came  into 
England,  they  usually  visited  Soho  as  one  of  the 
national  sights.  When  the  manufactory  was  complete 2 
and  in  full  work,  Boulton  removed  from  his  house 
on  Snow-hill  to  the  mansion  of  Soho,  which  he  had 
by  this  time  considerably  enlarged  and  improved. 
There  he  continued  to  live  until  the  close  of  his  life, 
maintaining  a  splendid  hospitality.  Men  of  all  nations, 
and  of  all  classes  and  opinions,  were  received  there  by 
turns, — princes,  philosophers,  artists,  authors,  merchants, 
and  poets.  In  August,  1767,  while  executing  the  two 
chains  for  the  queen,  we  find  him  writing  to  his  London 
agent  as  his  excuse  for  a  day's  delay  in  forwarding  it : 
"  I  had  lords  and  ladies  to  wait  on  yesterday ;  I  have 
French  and  Spaniards  to-day ;  and  to-morrow  I  shall 
have  Germans,  Russians,  and  Norwegians."  For  many 
years  the  visitors  at  Soho  House  were  so  numerous  and 
arrived  in  such  constant  succession,  that  it  more  re- 
sembled an  hotel  than  a  private  mansion. 

1  Boulton  to  the  Duke  of  Eichmond, 
Ajril  8,  1770.  The  Duke  was  en- 
gaged at  the  time  in  preparing  a  set 
of  machines  for  making  the  various 
experiments  in  Natural  Philosophy 
described  in  S'Gravande's  book.  The 
Duke  was  himself  a  good  turner  and 
worker  in  inclal. 

2  The  manufactory  was  complete  so 
far  as  regarded  the  hardware  manu- 
facture. But  additions  were  con- 
stantly being  made  to  it ;  and,  as 
other  branches  of  industry  were  added, 
it  became  more  than  doubled  in  extent 
and  accommodation. 




The  rapid  extension  of  the  Soho  business  necessarily 
led  to  the  increase  of  the  capitaT  invested  in  it.  Boulton 
had  to  find  large  sums  of  money  for  increased  stock, 
plant,  and  credits.  He  raised  3000/.  on  his  wife's 
estate ;  he  borrowed  5000/.  from  his  friend  Baum- 
garten ;  and  he  sold  considerable  portions  of  the  pro- 
perty left  him  by  his  father,  by  which  means  he  was 
enabled  considerably  to  extend  his  operations.  There 
were  envious  busybodies  about  who  circulated  rumours 
to  his  discredit,  and  set  the  report  on  foot,  that  to  carry 
on  a  business  on  so  large  a  scale  would  require  a  capital 
of  8 0,0 GO/.  "  Their  evil  speaking,"  said  he  to  a  corre- 
spondent, "will  avail  but  little,  as  our  house  is  founded 
on  so  firm  a  rock  that  envy  and  malice  will  not  be  able 
to  shake  it ;  and  I  am  determined  to  spare  neither  pains 
nor  money  to  establish  such  a  house  as  will  acquire 
both  honour  and  wealth."  The  rapid  strides  he  was 
making  may  be  inferred  from  the  statement  made  to 
the  same  correspondent,  which  showed  that  the  gross 
returns  of  the  firm,  which  were  7000/.  in  1763,  had 
advanced  to  30,000/.  in  1767,  with  orders  still  upon  the 



Though  he  had  a  keen  eye  for  business,  Boulton 
regarded  character  more  than  profit.  He  would  have 
no  connexion  with  any  transaction  of  a  discreditable 
kind.  Orders  were  sent  to  him  from  France  for  base 
money,  but  he  spurned  them  with  indignation.  "  I 
will  do  anything,"  he  wrote  to  M.  Motteaux,  his 
Paris  agent,  "  short  of  being  common  informer  against 
particular  persons,  to  stop  the  malpractices  of  the 
Birmingham  coiners."  He  declared  he  was  as  ready 
to  do  business  on  reasonable  terms  as  any  other  person, 
but  he  would  not  undersell ;  "  for,"  said  he,  "  to  run 
down  prices  would  be  to  run  down  quality,  which  could 
only  have  the  effect  of  undermining  confidence,  and 
eventually  ruining  trade."  His  principles  were  equally 
honourable  as  regarded  the  workmen  of  rival  employers. 
"  I  have  had  many  offers  and  opportunities,"  he  said  to 
one,  "  of  taking  your  people,  whom  I  could,  with  con- 
venience to  myself,  have  employed ;  but  it  is  a  practice 
I  abhor.  Nevertheless,  whatever  game  we  play  at,  I 
shall  always  avail  myself  of  the  rules  with  which 
'tis  played,  or  I  know  I  shall  make  but  a  very  indif- 
ferent figure  in  it."  ] 

He  was  frequently  asked  to  take  gentlemen  appren- 
tices into  his  works,  but  declined  to  receive  them, 
though  hundreds  of  pounds'  premium  were  in  many 
cases  offered  with  them.  He  preferred  employing 
the  humbler  class  of  boys,  whom  he  could  train  up 
as  skilled  workmen.  He  was  also  induced  to  prefer 
the  latter  for  another  reason,  of  a  still  more  creditable 
kind.  "  I  have,"  said  he,  in  answer  to  a  gentleman 
applicant,  "built  and  furnished  a  house  for  the  re- 
ception of  one  kind  of  apprentices — fatherless^  children, 
parish  apprentices,  and  hospital  boys ;  and  gentlemen's 
sons  would  probably  find  themselves  out  of  place  in 
such  companionship." 

Eoulton  to  John  Taylor,  23rd  January,  1769.     Eoulton  MSS. 




While  occupied  with  his  own  affairs,  and  in  con- 
ducting what  he  described  as  "  the  largest  hardware 
manufactory  in  the  world,"  Boulton  found  time  to  take 
an  active  part  in  promoting  the  measures  then  on  foot 
for  opening  up  the  internal  navigation  of  the  country. 
He  was  a  large  subscriber  to  the  Grand  Trunk  and 
Birmingham  Canal  schemes,  the  latter  of  which  was 
of  the  greater  importance  to  him  personally,  as  it 
passed  close  by  Soho,  and  thus  placed  his  works  in 
direct  communication  both  with  London  and  the  north- 
ern coal  and  manufacturing  districts.1 

Coming  down  to  a  few  years  later,  in  1770,  we  find 
his  business  still  growing,  and  his  works  and  plant 
absorbing  §till  more  capital,  principally  obtained  by 
borrowing.  In  a  letter  to  Mr.  Adams,  the  celebrated 
architect,  requesting  him**!*)  prepare  the  design  of  a 
ne\^  sale-rt)om  in  London,  he  described  the  manufactory 
at  Soho  as  in  full  progress,  from  700  to  800  persons 
being  employed  as  metallic  artists  and  workers  in 
tortoiseshell,  stones,  glass,  and  enamel.  "  I  have  almost 
every  machine,"  said  he,  "that  is  applicable  to  those 
arts ;  I  have  two  water-mills  employed  in  rolling,  po- 

1  When  the  canal  came  to  "be  con- 
structed at  the  point  at  which  it 
passed  Soho,  it  occasioned  him  great 
anxiety  through  the  leakage  of  the 
canal  banks  and  loss  of  water  for  the 
purposes  of  his  manufactory.  The 
supply,  especially  in  dry  summers, 
was  already  too  limited;  but  the 
canal  threatened  to  destroy  it  alto- 
gether. Writing  to  Mr.  Thomas 
Gilbert,  M.  P.,  on  the  subject  in 
February,  1769,  he  said,  "  The  very 
holes  which  Mr.  Smeaton  hath  dug  to 
try  the  ground,  drink  up  the  water 
nearly  as  fast  as  you  can  pour  it  in. 
....  Let  Smeaton  or  Brindley,  or  all 
the  engineers  upon  earth  give  what 
evidence  they  will  before  Parliament, 
I  am  convinced  by  last  summer's 
experience  that  if  the  proprietors  of 
the  canal  continue  to  take  the  two 
streams  on  wliich  my  mill  depends,  it 

is  ruined.  I  might  as  well  have  built 
it  upon  the  summit  of  the  hill."  After 
the  act  had  passed  he  wrote  his  friend 
Garbett,  "  I  have  seen  the  testimony 
of  the  two  engineers,  Smeaton  and 
Yeoman,  but  I  value  the  opinions  of 
neither  of  them,  nor  of  Brindley  nor 
Simcox  (in  this  case),  nor  of  tho 
whole  tribe  of  jobbing  ditchers,  who 
are  retained  as  evidence  on  any  side 
which  first  applies  for  them."  His 
alarms,  however,  proved  unfounded, 
as  the  leakage  of  the  canal  was  event- 
ually remedied;  and  in  November, 
1772,  we  rind  him  writing  to  the  Earl 
of  Warwick,  "  Our  navigation  goes  on 
prosperously;  the  junction  with  the 
Wolverhampton  Canal  is  complete ; 
and  we  already  sail  from  Birmingham 
to  Bristol  and  to  Hull."  —  Boulton 

x  2 


lishing,  grinding,  and  turning  various  sorts  of  lathes.  I 
have  trained  up  many,  and  am  training  up  more  plain 
country  lads  into  good  workmen ;  and  wherever  I  find 
indications  of  skill  and  ability,  I  encourage  them.  I 
have  likewise  established  correspondence  with  almost 
every  mercantile  town  in  Europe,  and  am  thus  regu- 
larly supplied  with  orders  for  the  grosser  articles  in 
common  demand,  by  which  I  am  enabled  to  employ 
such  a  number  of  hands  as  to  provide  me  with  an 
ample  choice  of  artists  for  the  finer  branches  of  work ; 
and  I  am  thereby  encouraged  to  erect  and  employ 
a  more  extensive  apparatus  than  it  would  be  prudent 
to  provide  for  the  production  of  the  finer  articles 

It  is  indeed  probable — though  Boulton  was  slow  to 
admit  it — that  he  had  been  extending  his  business  more 
rapidly  than  his  capital  would  conveniently  allow ; 
for  we  find  him  becoming  more  and  more  pressed  for 
means  to  meet  the  interest  on  the  borrowed  money 
invested  in  buildings,  tools,  and  machinery.  He  had 
obtained  10,000/.  from  a  Mr.  Tonson  of  London ;  and 
on  the  death  of  that  gentleman,  in  1772,  he  had  con- 
siderable difficulty  in  raising  the  means  to  pay  off  the 
debt.  His  embarrassment  was  increased  by  a  serious 
commercial  panic,  aggravated  by  the  failure  of  Fordyce 
brothers,  by  which  a  considerable  sum  deposited  with 
them  remained  locked  up  for  some  time,  and  he  was 
eventually  a  loser  to  the  extent  of  200 01.  Other  failures 
and  losses  followed ;  and  trade  came  almost  to  a  stand- 
still. Yet  he  bravely  held  on.  "  We  have  a  thousand 
mouths  at  Soho  to  feed,"  he  says ;  "  and  it  has  taken  so 
much  labour  and  pains  to  get  so  valuable  and  well- 
organised  a  staff  of  workmen  together,  that  the  opera- 
tions of  the  manufactory  must  be  carried  on  at  whatever 
risk."  He  continued  to  receive  distinguished  visitors 
at  his  works.  "  Last  week,"  he  wrote  Mr.  Ebbenhouse, 
"  we  had  Prince  Poniatowski,  nephew  of  the  King 


of  Poland,  and  the  French,  Danish,  Sardinian,  and 
Dutch  Ambassadors ;  this  week  we  have  had  Count 
Orloff,  one  of  the  five  celebrated  brothers  who  are 
such  favourites  with  the  Empress  of  Bussia ;  and  only 
yesterday  I  had  the  Viceroy  of  Ireland,  who  dined 
with  me.  Scarcely  a  day  passes  without  a  visit  from 
some  distinguished  personage." 

Besides  carrying  on  the  extensive  business  connected 
with  his  manufactory  at  Soho,  this  indefatigable  man 
found  time  to  prosecute  the  study  of  several  important 
branches  of  practical  science.  It  was  scarcely  to  be 
supposed  that  he  had  much  leisure  at  his  disposal ;  but 
in  life  it  often  happens  that  the  busiest  men  contrive 
to  find  the  most  leisure ;  and  he  who  is  "up  to  the  ears" 
in  work,  can,  nevertheless,  snatch  occasional  intervals 
to  devote  to  inquiries  in  which  his  heart  is  engaged. 
Hence  we  find  Boulton  ranging  at  intervals  over  a 
wide  field  of  inquiry  ;  at  one  time  studying  geology, 
and  collecting  fossils,  minerals,  and  specimens  for  his 
museum ;  at  another,  reading  and  experimenting  on 
fixed  air ;  and  at  another  studying  Newton's  works 
with  the  object  of  increasing  the  force  of  projectiles.1 
But  the  subject  which  perhaps  more  than  all  interested 
him  was  the  improvement  of  the  Steam  Engine,  which 
shortly  after  led  to  his  introduction  to  James  Watt. 

1  Among  Boulton's  scientific  memo-  i  proposed  the  truer  boring  of  the  guns, 
randa,  we  find  some  curious  specula-  l  the  use  of  a  telescopic  sight,  and  a 
tions,  bearing  the  date  of  1766,  rela-  j  cylindrical  shot  with  its  end  of  a 
tive  to  improvements  which  he  was  j  parabolic  form  as  presenting  in  his 
trying  to  work  out  in  gunnery.  He  opinion  the  least  resistance  to  the  air. 



CHAP.  X. 



WANT  of  water-power  was  one  of  the  great  defects  of 
Soho  as  a  manufacturing  establishment,  and  for  a  long 
time  Boulton  struggled  with  the  difficulty.  The  severe 
summer  droughts  obliged  him  to  connect  a  horse-mill 
with  the  water-wheel.  From  six  to  ten  horses  were  em- 
ployed as  an  auxiliary  power,  at  an  expense  of  from  five 
to  eight  guineas  a  week.  But  this  expedient,  though  costly, 
was  found  very  inconvenient.  Boulton  next  thought 
of  erecting  a  pumping-engine  after  Savery  or  New- 
comen's  construction,  for  the  purpose  of  raising  the  water 
from  the  mill-stream  and  returning  it  back  into  the  reser- 
voir— thereby  maintaining  a  head  of  water  sufficient  to 
supply  the  water-wheel  and  keep  the  mill  in  regular  work. 
"  The  enormous  expense  of  the  horse-power,"  he  wrote 
to  a  friend,  "  put  me  upon  thinking  of  turning  the  mill 
by  fire,  and  I  made  many  fruitless  experiments  on  the 

In  1766  we  find  him  engaged  in  a  correspondence 
with  the  distinguished  Benjamin  Franklin  as  to  steam 
power.  Eight  years  before,  Franklin  had  visited  Boulton 
at  Birmingham  and  made  his  acquaintance.  They  were 
mutually  pleased  with  each  other,  and  continued  to  cor- 
respond during  Franklin's  stay  in  England,  exchanging 
their  views  on  magnetism,  electricity,  and  other  subjects.1 

1  On  the  22nd  May,  1765,  Franklin 
writes  Boulton, — "  Mr.  Baskerville  in- 
forms me  that  you  have  lately  had  a 
considerable  addition  to  your  fortune, 

on  which  1  sincerely  congratulate  you. 
I  beg  leave  to  introduce  my  friend 
Doctor  Small  to  your  acquaintance, 
and  to  recommend  him  to  your  civili- 

CHAP.  X. 



When  Boultoii  began  to  study  the  fire-engine  with  a 
view  to  its  improvement,  Franklin  was  one  of  the  first 
whom  he  consulted.  Writing  him  on  the  22nd  February, 
1766,  he  said,— 

"  My  engagements  since  Christmas  have  not  permitted  me  to  make 
any  further  progress  with  my  fire-engine ;  but,  as  the  thirsty  season 
is  approaching  apace,  necessity  will  oblige  me  to  set  about  it  in 
good  earnest.  Query, — •AVhich  of  the  steam- valves  do  you  like  best? 
Is  it  better  to  introduce  the  jet  of  cold  water  at  the  bottom  of  the 
receiver,  or  at  the  top  ?  Each  has  its  advantages  and  disadvantages. 
My  thoughts  about  the  secondary  or  mechanical  contrivances  of  the 
engine  are  too  numerous  to  trouble  you  with  in  this  letter,  and  yet 
I  have  not  been  lucky  enough  to  hit  upon  any  that  are  objectionless. 
I  therefore  beg,  if  any  thought  occurs  to  your  fertile  genius  which 
you  think  may  be  useful,  or  preserve  me  from  error  in  the  execution 
of  this  engine,  you'll  be  so  kind  as  to  communicate  it  to  me,  and 
you'll  very  greatly  oblige  me." 

From  a  subsequent  letter  it  appears  that  Boulton,  like 
Watt — who  was  about  the  same  time  occupied  with  his 
invention  at  Glasgow — had  a  model  constructed  for  ex- 
perimental purposes,  and  that  this  model  was  now  with 
Franklin  in  London ;  for  we  find  Boulton  requesting 
the  latter  to  "  order  a  porter  to  nail  up  the  model  in  the 
box  again  and  take  it  to  the  Birmingham  carrier  at  the 
Bell  Inn,  Smithfield."  After  a  silence  of  about  a  month 
Franklin  replied,— 

"You  will,  I  trust,  excuse  my  so  long  omitting  to  answer  your 
kind  letter,  when  you  consider  the  excessive  hurry  and  anxiety  I 

have  been  engaged  in  with  our  American  affairs I  know  not 

which  of  the  valves  to  give  the  preference  to,  nor  whether  it  is  best 
to  introduce  your  jet  of  cold  water  above  or  below.  Experiments 
will  best  decide  in  such  cases.  I  would  only  repeat  to  you  the  hint 
I  gave,  of  fixing  your  grate  in  such  a  manner  as  to  bum  all  your 
smoke.  I  think  a  great  deal  of  fuel  will  then  be  saved,  for  two 

ties.  I  would  not  take  this  freedom, 
if  I  were  not  sure  it  would  be  agree- 
able to  you ;  and  that  you  will  thank 
me  for  adding  to  the  number  of  those 
who  from  their  knowledge  of  you 
must  respect  you,  one  who  is  both  an 
ingenious  philosopher  and  a  most 

worthy  honest  man.  If  anything  new 
in  magnetism  or  electricity,  or  any 
other  branch  of  natural  knowledge, 
has  occurred  to  your  fruitful  genius 
since  I  last  had  the  pleasure  of  seeing 
you,  you  will  by  communicating  it 
greatly  oblige  me?' 


reasons.  One,  that  smoke  is  fuel,  and  is  wasted  when  it  escapes 
uninflamed.  The  other,  that  it  forms  a  sooty  crust  on  the  bottom  of 
the  boiler,  which  crust  not  being  a  good  conductor  of  heat,  and  pre- 
venting flame  and  hot  air  coming  into  immediate  contact  with  the 
vessel,  lessens  their  effect  in  giving  heat  to  the  water.  All  that  is 
necessary  is,  to  make  the  smoke  of  fresh  coals  pass  descending 
through  those  that  are  already  thoroughly  ignited.  I  sent  the 
model  last  week,  with  your  papers  in  it,  which  1  hope  got  safe  to 
hand." ' 

The  model  duly  arrived  at  Soho,  and  we  find  Boulton 
shortly  after  occupied  in  making  experiments  with  it, 
the  results  of  which  are  duly  entered  in  his  note-books. 
Dr.  Erasmus  Darwin,  with  whom  he  was  on  very  inti- 
mate terms,  wrote  him  from  Lichfield,  inquiring  what 
Franklin  thought  of  the  model  and  what  suggestions  he 
had  made  for  its  improvement.  "  Your  model  of  a  steam- 
engine,  I  am  told,"  said  he,  "  has  gained  so  much  appro- 
bation in  London,  that  I  cannot  but  congratulate  you 
on  the  mechanical  fame  you  have  acquired  by  it,  which, 
assure  yourself,  is  as  great  a  pleasure  to  me  as  it  could 
possibly  be  to  yourself."2  Another  letter  of  Darwin  to 
Boulton  is  preserved,  without  date,  but  apparently  written 
earlier  than  the  preceding,  in  which  the  Doctor  lays 
before  the  mechanical  philosopher  the  scheme  of  "  a  fiery 
chariot "  which  he  had  conceived, — in  other  words,  of  a 
locomotive  steam-carriage.  He  proposed  to  apply  an 
engine  with  a  pair  of  cylinders  working  alternately,  to 
drive  the  proposed  vehicle ; 3  and  he  sent  Boulton  some 
rough  diagrams  illustrative  of  his  views,  which  he  begged 

1  Franklin  to  Boulton,  March  19, 
1766.    Boulton  MSS. 

2  Darwin    to  Boulton,  March    11, 
1766.    Boulton  MSS. 

3  The  following  passage  occurs  in 
his  letter : — "  Suppose  one  piston  up, 
and  the  vacuum' made  under  it  by  the 
jet  d'eau  froid.      That  piston  cannot 
yet  descend,  because  the  cock  is  not 
yet  opened  which  admits  the  steam 
into   its  antagonist  cylinder.     Hence 

mosphere.  Then,  I  say,  if  the  cock 
which  admits  the  steam  into  the 
antagonist  cylinder  be  opened  gradu- 
ally and  not  with  a  jerk,  that  the  first 
mentioned  [piston  in  the]  cylinder 
will  descend  gradually  and  yet  not 
less  forcibly.  Hence  by  the  manage- 
ment of  the  steam  cocks  the  motion 
may  be  accelerated,  retarded,  de- 
stroyed, revived,  instantly  and  easily. 
And  if  this  answers  in  practice  as  it 

the  two  pistons  are  in  equilibrio,  being  |  does  in   theory,  the  machine  cannot 
cither   of  them   pressed   by   the   at-  '  fail  of  success !     Eureka!" 


might  be  kept  a  profound  secret,  as  it  was  his  intention, 
if  Boulton  approved  of  his  plan  and  would  join  him  as  a 
partner,  to  endeavour  to  build  a  model  engine,  and,  if  it 
answered,  to  take  out  a  joint  patent  for  it.  But  Dr. 
Darwin's  scheme  was  too  crude  to  be  capable  of  being 
embodied  in  a  working  model;  and  nothing  more  was 
heard  of  his  fiery  chariot. 

Another  of  Boulton's  numerous  correspondents  about 
the  same  time  was  Dr.  Roebuck,  of  Kinneil,  then  occu- 
pied with  his  enterprise  at  Carron,  and  about  to  engage 
in  working  the  Boroughstoness  coal  mines,  of  the  results 
of  which  he  was  extremely  sanguine.  He  also  wished 
Boulton  to  join  him  as  a  partner,  offering  a  tenth  share 
in  the  concern,  and  to  take  back  the  share  if  the  result 
did  not  answer  expectations.  But  Boulton's  hands 
were  already  full  of  business  nearer  home,  and  he  de- 
clined the  venture.  Roebuck  then  informed  him  of  the 
invention  made  by  his  ingenious  friend  Watt,  and  of 
the  progress  of  the  model  engine.  This  was  a  subject- 
calculated  to  excite  the  interest  of  Boulton,  himself  occu- 
pied in  studying  the  same  subject,  and  he  expressed  a 
desire  to  see  Watt,  if  he  could  make  it  convenient  to 
visit  him  at  Soho. 

It  so  happened  that  Watt  had  occasion  to  be  in  London 
in  the  summer  of  1767,  on  the  business  connected  with 
the  Forth  and  Clyde  Canal  Bill,  and  he  determined  to 
take  Soho  on  his  way  home.  When  Watt  paid  his  pro- 
mised visit,  Boulton  was  absent ;  but  he  was  shown  over 
the  works  by  his  friend  Dr.  Small,  who  had  settled  in 
Birmingham  as  a  physician,  and  already  secured  a  high 
place  in  Boulton's  esteem.  Watt  was  much  struck  with 
the  admirable  arrangements  of  the  Soho  manufactory, 
and  recognised  at  a  glance  the  admirable  power  of  or- 
ganisation which  they  displayed.  Still  plodding  wearily 
with  his  model,  and  contending  with  the  "  villanous  bad 
workmanship  "  of  his  Glasgow  artisans,  he  could  not  but 
envy  the  precision  of  the  Soho  tools  and  the  dexterity  of 



CHAP.  X. 

the  Soho  workmen.  Some  conversation  on  the  subject 
must  have  occurred  between  him  and  Small,  to  whom  he 
explained  the  nature  of  his  invention ;  for  we  find  the 
latter  shortly  after  writing  Watt,  urging  him  to  come  to 
Birmingham  and  join  partnership  with  Boulton  and 
himself  in  the  manufacture  of  steam-engines.1  Although 
nothing  came  of  this  proposal  at  the  time,  it  had  probably 
some  effect,  when  communicated  to  Dr.  Eoebuck,  in 
inducing  him  to  close  with  Watt  as  a  partner,  and  thus 
anticipate  his  Birmingham  correspondents,  of  whose 
sagacity  he  had  the  highest  opinion. 

In  the  following  year  Watt  visited  London  on  the 
business  connected  with  the  engine  patent.  Small  wrote 
to  him  there,  saying,  "  Get  your  patent  and  come  to 
Birmingham,  with  as  much  time  to  spend  as  you  can." 
Watt  accordingly  again  took  Birmingham  on  his  way 
home.  There  he  saw  his  future  partner  for  the  first 
time,  and  they  at  once  conceived  a  hearty  liking  for 
each  other.  They  had  much  conversation  about  the 
engine,  and  it  greatly  cheered  Watt  to  find  that  the  sa- 
gacious and  practical  Birmingham  manufacturer  should 
augur  so  favourably  of  its  success  as  he  did.  Shortly 
after,  when  Dr.  Eobison  visited  Soho,  Boulton  told  him 

1  Small  wrote  Watt  from  Birming- 
ham, on  the  7th  January,  1768 : — 
"  Our  friend  Boulton  will  by  this 
post  send  letters  both  to  you  and  Dr. 
Roebuck.  I  know  not  well  how  to 
resolve  without  seeing  you.  I  have 
not  the  pleasure  of  being  enough 
acquainted  with  Dr.  E.  to  judge 
whether  we  should  all  suit  one  ano- 
ther. His  integrity  and  generosity 
everybody  agrees  are  great.  You 
certainly  know  the  proposal  he  has 
made  to  Boulton,  who  will  tell  you 
his  determination  about  it.  Before  I 
knew  of  your  connexion  with  Dr.  K. 
my  idea  was  that  you  should  settle 
here,  and  that  Boulton  and  I  should 
assist  you  as  much  as  we  could,  which 
in  any  case  we  will  most  certainly  do. 
I  have  no  kind  of  doubt  of  your 

success,  nor  of  your  acquiring  fortune, 
if  you  proceed  upon  a  proper  plan  as 
to  the  manner  of  doing  business; 
which,  if  you  do,  you  will  be  sole 
possessor  of  the  affair  even  after  your 
patent  has  expired.  I  had  not  tho- 
roughly considered  this  part  of  the 
matter  when  you  left  me.  In  a 
partnership  that  I  liked,  I  should  not 
hesitate  to  employ  any  sum  of  money 
I  can  command  on  your  scheme,  and 
I  am  certain  it  may  be  managed  with 
only  a  moderate  capital.  Whether  it 
would  be  possible  to  manage  the  wheel 
and  reciprocating  engines  by  separate 
partnerships  without  their  interfering 
I  am  not  certain.  If  it  is,  Boulton 
and  I  would  engage  with  you  in 
either, provided  you  will  live  here" — 
Boulton  MSS. 


that  although  he  had  begun  the  construction  of  his  pro- 
posed pumping-engine,  he  had  determined  to  proceed  no 
further  with  it  until  he  saw  what  came  of  Watt  and 
Roebuck's  scheme.  "  In  erecting  my  proposed  engine," 
said  he,  "I  would  necessarily  avail  myself  of  what  I 
learned  from  Mr.  Watt's  conversation ;  but  this  would 
not  now  be  right  without  his  consent."  Boulton's  con- 
duct in  this  proceeding  was  thoroughly  characteristic  of 
him,  and  merely  affords  another  illustration  of  the  general 
fairness  and  honesty  with  which  he  acted  in  all  his 
business  transactions. 

Watt  returned  to  Glasgow  to  resume  his  engine  ex- 
periments and  to  proceed  with  his  canal  surveys.  He 
kept  up  a  correspondence  with  Boulton,  and  advised 
him  from  time  to  time  of  the  progress  made  with  his 
model.  Towards  the  end  of  the  year  we  find  him  sending 
Boulton  a  package  from  Glasgow  containing  "  one  dozen 
German  flutes  at  5s.,  and  a  copper  digester  II.  105." 
He  added,  "  I  have  almost  finished  a  most  complete  model 
of  my  reciprocating-engine  :  when  it  is  tried,  I  shall 
advise  the  success."  To  Dr.  Small  he  wrote  more  con- 
fidentially, sending  him  in  January,  1769,  a  copy  of  the 
intended  specification  of  his  steam-engine.  He  also  spoke 
of  his  general  business  :  "Our  pottery,"  said  he,  "  is 
doing  tolerably,  though  not  as  I  wish.  I  am  sick  of  the 
people  I  have  to  do  with,  though  not  of  the  business, 
which  I  expect  will  turn  out  a  very  good  one.  I  have 
a  fine  scheme  for  doing  it  all  by  fire  or  water  mills,  but 
not  in  this  country  nor  with  the  present  people."  1  Later, 
he  wrote  :  "  I  have  had  another  three  days  of  fever,  from 
which  I  am  not  quite  recovered.  This  cursed  climate 
and  constitution  will  undo  me."  Watt  must  have  told 
Small  when  at  Birmingham  of  the  probability  of  his 
being  able  to  apply  his  steam-engine  to  locomotion ;  for 
the  latter  writes  him,  "  I  told  Dr.  Robison  and  his  pupil 

1  Watt  to  Small,  Janiiary  28,  1769.    Boulton  MJS!S. 


that  I  hoped  soon  to  travel  in  a  fiery  chariot  of  your 
invention."  Later,  Small  wrote  :  "  A  linendraper  at 
London,  one  Moore,  has  taken  out  a  patent  for  moving 
wheel-carriages  by  steam.  This  comes  of  thy  delays.  I 
dare  say  he  has  heard  of  your  inventions.  .  .  .  Do  come 
to  England  with  all  possible  speed.  At  this  moment, 
how  I  could  scold  you  for  negligence  !  However,  if  you 
will  come  hither  soon,  I  will  promise  to  be  very  civil, 
and  buy  a  steam-chaise  of  you  and  not  of  Moore.  And 
yet  it  vexes  me  abominably  to  see  a  man  of  your  superior 
genius  neglect  to  avail  himself  properly  of  his  great 
talents.  These  short  fevers  will  do  you  good."  1  Watt 
replied  :  "  If  linendraper  Moore  does  not  use  my  engines 
to  drive  his  chaises,  he  can't  drive  them  by  steam.  If 
he  does,  I  will  stop  them.  I  suppose  by  the  rapidity 
of  his  progress  and  puffing  he  is  too  volatile  to  be  dan- 
gerous. .  .  .  You  talk  to  me  about  coming  to  England, 
just  as  if  I  was  an  Indian  that  had  nothing  to  remove 
but  my  person.  Why  do  we  encumber  ourselves  with 
anything  else  ?  I  can't  see  you  before  July  at  soonest, 
unless  you  come  here.  If  you  do  I  can  recommend  you 
to  a  fine  sweet  girl,  who  will  be  anything  you  want 
her  to  be  if  you  can  make  yourself  agreeable  to  her." 
Badinage  apart,  however,  there  was  one  point  on  which 
Watt  earnestly  solicited  the  kind  services  of  his  friend. 
He  had  become  more  than  ever  desirous  of  securing  the 
powerful  co-operation  of  Matthew  Boulton  in  introducing 
his  invention  to  public  notice  :— 

"  Seriously,"  says  he,  "  you  will  oblige  me  if  you  will  negotiate 
the  following  affair : — I  find  that  if  the  engine  succeeds  my  whole 
time  will  be  taken  up  in  planning  and  erecting  Reciprocating 
engines,  and  the  Circulator  must  stand  still  unless  i  do  what  I  have 
done  too  often,  neglect  certainty  for  hope.  Now,  Mr.  Boulton  wants 
one  or  more  engines  for  his  own  use.  If  he  will  make  a  model  of 
one  of  20  inches  diameter  at  least,  I  will  give  him  my  advice  and  as 
much  assistance  as  I  can.  He  shall  have  liberty  to  erect  one  of  any 

1  Small  to  Watt,  18th  April,  1769.    Boulton  MSS. 

CHAP.  X. 



size  for  his  own  use.  If  lie  should  choose  to  have  more  the  terms 
will  be  easy,  and  I  shall  consider  myself  much  obliged  to  him.  If 
it  should  answer,  and  he  should  not  think  himself  repaid  for  his 
trouble  by  the  use  of  it,  he  shall  make  and  use  it  until  he  is  repaid. 
If  this  be  agreeable  to  him  let  me  know,  and  I  will  propose  it  to  the 
Doctor  [Eoebuck],  and  doubt  not  of  his  consent.  I  wish  Mr.  Boulton 
and  you  had  entered  into  some  negotiation  with  the  Doctor  about 
coming  in  as  partners.  I  am  afraid  it  is  now  too  late ;  for  the  nearer 
it  approaches  to  certainty,  he  grows  the  more  tenacious  of  it.1 
For  my  part,  I  shall  continue  to  think  as  I  did,  that  it  would  be  for 
our  mutual  advantage.  His  expectations  are  solely  from  the 
Eeciprocator.  Possibly  he  may  be  tempted  to  part  with  the  half  of 
the  Circulator  to  you.  This  I  say  of  myself.  Mr.  Boulton  asked 
if  the  Circulator  was  contrived  since  our  agreement.  It  was ;  but 
it  is  a  part  of  the  scheme,  and  virtually  included  in  it."2 

From  this  it  will  be  seen  how  anxious  Watt  was 
to  engage  Boulton  in  taking  an  interest  in  his  inven- 
tion. But  though  the  fly  was  artfully  cast  over  the 
nose  of  the  fish,  still  he  would  not  rise.  The  times 
were  out  of  joint,  business  was  stagnant,  and  Boulton 
was  of  necessity  cautious  about  venturing  upon  new 
enterprises.  Small  doubtless  communicated  the  views 
thus  confidentially  conveyed  to  him  by  Watt;  and 
in  his  next  letter  he  again  pressed  him  to  come  to 
Birmingham  and  have  a  personal  interview  with 
Boulton  as  to  the  engine,  adding,  "bring  this  pretty 
girl  with  you  when  you  come."  But,  instead  of  Watt, 
Eoebuck  himself  went  to  see  Boulton  on  the  subject. 
During  the  time  of  this  visit,  Watt  again  communicated 
to  Small  his  anxiety  that  Boulton  should  join  in  the 
partnership.  "  As  for  myself,"  said  he,  "  I  shall  say 
nothing ;  but  if  you  three  can  agree  among  yourselves, 
you  may  appoint  me  what  share  you  please,  and  you 
will  find  me  willing  to  do  my  best  to  advance  the 
good  of  the  whole ;  or,  if  this  [the  engine]  should  not 

1  Roebuck  was  at  this  time  willing 
to  admit  Boulton  as  a  partner  in  the 
patent,  but  only  as  respected  the 
profits  of  engines  sold  in  the  counties 
of  Warwick,  Stafford,  and  Derby. 
This  Boulton  declined,  saying,  "  It 

would  not  he  worth  my  while  to 
make  engines  for  three  counties  only  ; 
but  it  might  be  worth  my  while  to 
make  for  all  the  world." 

2  Watt  to  Small,  28th  April,  1769. 
Boulton  MSS. 


succeed,  to  do  any  other  thing  I  can  to  make  you 
all  amends,  only  reserving  to  myself  the  liberty  of 
grumbling  when  I  am  in  an  ill  humour."  ] 

Small's  reply  was  discouraging.  Both  Boulton  and 
he  had  just  engaged  in  another  scheme,  which  would 
require  all  the  ready  money  at  their  command.  Pos- 
sibly the  ill-success  of  the  experiment  Watt  had  by 
this  time  made  with  his  new  model  at  Kinneil  may 
have  had  some  influence  in  deterring  them  from  en- 
gaging m  what  still  looked  a  very  unpromising  specu- 
lation. Watt  was  greatly  cast  down  at  this  intelli- 
gence, though  he  could  not  blame  his  friend  for  the 
caution  he  displayed  in  the  matter.2  He  nevertheless 
again  returned  to  the  subject  in  his  letters  to  Small ; 
and  at  last  Boulton  was  persuaded  to  enter  into  a  con- 
ditional arrangement  with  Roebuck,  which  was  im- 
mediately communicated  to  Watt,  who  received  the 
intelligence  with  great  exultation.  "I  shake  hands," 
he  wrote  to  Small,  "  with  you  and  Mr.  Boulton  in  our 
connexion,  which  I  hope  will  prove  agreeable  to  us 
all."  His  joy,  however,  proved  premature,  as  it 
turned  out  that  the  agreement  was  only  to  the  effect, 
that  if  Boulton  thought  proper  to  exercise  the  option 
of  becoming  a  partner  in  the  engine  to  the  extent  of 
one-third,  he  was  to  do  so  within  a  period  of  twelve 
months,  paying  Roebuck  a  sum  of  1000/. ;  but  this 
option  Boulton  never  exercised,  and  the  engine  enter- 
prise seemed  to  be  as  far  from  success  as  ever. 

In  the  mean  time  Watt  became  increasingly  anxious 

1  Watt  to  Small,  20th  September,     pleasure  at  the  expense  of  your  quiet, 
1769.     Boulton  MSS.  which  might  be  the  case  if  you  iu- 

2  "  I  am  really  very  sorry  on  my  own  |  volved  yourself  in  more  business  than 
account,"  he  wrote,  "  that  your  en-     you  could  easily  manage,  or,  what  is 
gagements  hinder  you  from  entering     worse,  find  money  for.     Besides,  this 
into   our   scheme,   for  that  ought   to  !  is  not  a  trade,  but  a  project ;  and  no 
bo    the   result    of   your   deliberation.  ;  man   should   risk  more  money  on  a 
Though  there  are  few  things  I  have     project  than  he  can  afford  to  lose."- 
wished  more  for  than  being  connected     Watt  to  Small,  21st  October,  1769. 
with   you   on   many  accounts,  yet  I  !  Boulton  MSS. 

should  be  very  loath  to  purchase  that 



about  his  own  position.  He  had  been  spending  more 
money  on  fruitless  experiments,  and  getting  into  more 
debt.  The  six  months  he  had  been  living  at  Kinneil 
had  brought  him  in  nothing.  He  had  been  neglect- 
ing his  business,  and  could  not  afford  to  waste  more 
time  in  prosecuting  an  apparently  hopeless  speculation. 
He  accordingly  returned  to  his  regular  work,  and 
proceeded  with  the  survey  of  the  river  Clyde,  at  the 
instance  of  the  Glasgow  Corporation.  "  I  would  not 
have  meddled  with  this,"  he  wrote  to  Dr.  Small,  "  had 
I  been  certain  of  being  able  to  bring  the  engine  to 
bear.  But  I  cannot,  on  an  uncertainty,  refuse  every 
piece  of  business  that  offers.  I  have  refused  some 
common  fire-engines,  because  they  must  have  taken 
rny  attention  so  up  as  to  hinder  my  going  on  with 
my  own.  However,  if  I  cannot  make  it  answer  soon, 
I  shall  certainly  undertake  the  next  that  offers,  for  I 
cannot  afford  to  trifle  away  my  whole  life,  which  — 
God  knows — may  not  be  long.  Not  that  I  think 
myself  a  proper  hand  for  keeping  men  to  their  duty ; 
but  I  must  use  my  endeavours  to  make  myself  square 
with  the  world,  though  I  much  fear  I  never  shall."  l 

Small  lamented  this  apparent  abandonment  of  the 
engine  to  its  fate.  But  though  he  had  failed  in  in- 
ducing Boulton  heartily  to  join  Watt  in  the  enter- 
prise, he  did  not  yet  despair.  He  continued  to  urge 
Watt  to  complete  his  engine,  as  the  fourteen  years 
for  which  the  patent  lasted  would  soon  be  gone.  A't 
all  events  he  might  send  drawings  of  his  engine  to 
Soho ;  and  Mr.  Boulton  and  he  would  undertake  to 
do  their  best  to  have  one  constructed  for  the  purpose 
of  exhibiting  its  powers.2  To  this  Watt  agreed,  and 

1  Watt  to  Small,  20th  September,  !  "  are  very  desirous  of  is,  to  move  canal 
17G9.  |  boats   by  this   engine;    so   we   have 

2  Small  informed  Watt  that  it  was    made  this  model  of  a  size  sufficient 
intended  to  make  an  engine  for  the  j  for  that  purpose.     We  propose  first  to 
purpose     of     drawing     canal     boats.  |  operate  without  any  condenser,  because 
"  What  Mr.  Boulton  and  I,"  he  wrote,  i  coals  are  here  exceedingly  cheap,  and 



CHAP.  X- 

about  the  beginning  of  1770,  the  necessary  drawings 
were  sent  to  Soho,  and  an  engine  was  immediately 
put  in  course  of  execution.  Patterns  were  made  and 
sent  to  Coalbrookdale  to  be  cast ;  but  when  the  castings 
were  received,  they  were  found  exceedingly  imperfect, 
and  were  thrown  aside  as  useless.  They  were  then 
sent  to  an  ironfounder  at  Bilston  to  be  executed ;  but 
the  result  was  only  another  failure. 

About  the  beginning  of  1770,  another  unsuccessful 
experiment  was  made  by  Watt  and  Roebuck  with 
the  engine  at  Kinneil.  The  cylinder  had  been  repaired 
and  made  true  by  beating,  but  as  the  metal  of  which 
it  was  made  was  soft,  it  was  feared  that  the  working 
of  the  piston  might  throw  it  out  of  form.  To  prevent 
this,  two  firm  parallel  planes  were  fixed,  through  which 
the  piston  worked,  in  order  to  prevent  its  vibration. 
"  If  this  should  fail,"  Eoebuck  wrote  to  Boulton,  in 
giving  an  account  of  the  intended  trial,  "  then  the 
cylinder  must  be  made  of  cast-iron.  But  I  have  great 
confidence  that  the  present  engine  will  work  completely, 
and  by  this  day  se'nnight  you  may  expect  to  hear  the 
result  of  our  experiments."  *  The  good  news,  however, 
never  went  to  Birmingham ;  on  the  contrary,  the 
trial  proved  a  failure.  There  was  some  more  tinkering 

because  you  can,  more  commodiously 
than  we,  make  experiments  on  con- 
densers, having  several  already  by 
you.  Above  150  boats  are  now  em- 
ployed on  these  new  waveless  canals, 
so  if  we  can  succeed,  the  field  is  not 
narrow."  This  suggestion  of  working 
canal  boats  by  steam  immediately 
elicited  a  reply  from  Watt  on  the 
subject.  Invention  was  so  habitual 
to  him  that  a  new  method  of  em- 
ploying power  was  no  sooner  hinted 
than  his  active  mind  at  once  set  to 
work  to  solve  the  problem.  "  Have 
you  ever,"  he  wrote  Small,  "  con- 
sidered a  spiral  oar  for  that  purpose, 
or  are  you  for  two  wheels  ?"  And  to 
make  his  meaning  clear,  he  sketched 

out  a  rough  but  graphic  outline  of  a 
screw  propeller.  Small's  reply  was 
unfavourable :  he  replied,  "  I  have 
tried  models  of  spiral  oars,  and  have 
found  them  all  inferior  to  oars  of  either 
of  the  other  forms ;  I  believe  because 
a  cylinder  of  water  immersed  in  water 
can  be  easily  turned  round  its  own 
axis.  We  propose  to  try  gun-lock 
springs  with  the  fixed  part  longer 
than  the  moving.  If  we  cannot  suc- 
ceed, we  will  have  recourse  to  what 
you  have  so  obligingly  and  clearly 
described."  Finally  Watt  writes  a 
fortnight  later,  "  concerning  spirals,  I 
do  not  continue  fond  of  them." 

1  Roebuck    to    Boulton,    February 
12,  1770. 


at  the  engine,  but  it  would  not  work  satisfactorily ;  and 
Watt  went  back  to  Glasgow  with  a  heavy  heart. 

Small  again  endeavoured  to  induce  Watt  to  visit 
Birmingham,  to  superintend  the  erection  of  the  engine, 
the  materials  for  which  were  now  lying  at  Soho.  He 
also  held  out  to  Watt  the  hope  of  obtaining  some 
employment  for  him  in  the  midland  counties  as  a 
consulting  engineer.  But  Watt  could  not  afford  to 
lose  more  time  in  erecting  trial-engines ;  and  he  was 
too  much  occupied  at  Glasgow  to  leave  it  for  the 
proposed  uncertainty  at  Birmingham.  He  accordingly 
declined  the  visit,  but  invited  Small  to  continue  the 
correspondence ;  "  for,"  said  he,  "  we  have  abundance 
of  matters  to  discuss,  though  the  damned  engine 
sleep  in  quiet."  Small  wrote  back,  professing  him- 
self satisfied  that  Watt  was  so  fully  employed  in  his 
own  profession  at  Glasgow.  "  Let  nothing,"  he  said, 
"  divert  you  from  the  business  of  engineering.  You 
are  sensible  that  both  Boulton  and  I  engaged  in  the 
patent  scheme  much  more  from  inclination  to  be  in 
some  degree  useful  to  you  than  from  any  other  prin- 
ciple ;  so  that  if  you  are  prosperous  and  happy,  we  do 
not  care  whether  you  find  the  scheme  worth  prose- 
cuting or  not." L  Eeplying  to  Small's  complaint  of 
himself,  that  he  felt  ennuye  and  stupid,  taking  pleasure 
in  nothing  but  sleep,  Watt  said :  "  You  complain  of 
physic ;  I  find  it  sufficiently  stupifying  to  be  obliged 
to  think  on  any  subject  but  one's  hobby ;  and  I  really 
am  become  monstrously  stupid,  and  can  seldom  think 
at  all.  I  wish  to  God  I  could  afford  to  live  without 
it;  though  I  don't  admire  your  sleeping  scheme.  I 
must  fatigue  myself,  otherwise  I  can  neither  eat  nor 
sleep.  In  short,  I  greatly  doubt  whether  the  silent 
mansion  of  the  grave  be  not  the  happiest  abode.  I  am 
cured  of  most  of  my  youthful  desires,  and  if  ambition 

Small  to  Watt,  17th  September,  1770.     Bonlton  MSS. 





or  avarice  do  not  lay  hold  of  me,  I  shall  be  almost 
as  much  ennuye  as  you  say  you  are." ] 

Small  again  recurred  to  the  subject  of  Watt's  removal 
to  Birmingham,  informing  him  that  he  had  provided 
accommodation  for  him,  "  having  kept  a  whole  house 
in  my  power,  in  hopes  you  may  come  to  live  here." 

Watt's  prospects  were,  however,  brightening.  He 
was  then  busily  occupied  in  superintending  the  con- 
struction of  the  Monkland  Canal.  He  wrote  Small 
that  he  had  a  hundred  men  working  under  him,  who 
had  "made  a  confounded  gash  in  a  hill,"  at  which 
they  had  been  working  for  twelve  months  ;  that  by 
frugal  living  he  had  contrived  to  save  money  enough 
to  pay  his  debts,  and  that  he  had  plenty  of  remunerative 
work  before  him.  He  had  also  become  concerned  in 
a  pottery,  which,  he  said,  "  does  very  well,  though  we 
make  monstrous  bad  ware." '  He  had  not,  indeed,  got 
rid  of  his  headaches,  though  he  was  not  so  much 
afflicted  by  low  spirits  as  he  had  been.  But  he  con- 
fessed that  after  all  he  hated  the  business  of  engineer- 
ing, and  wished  himself  well  rid  of  it,  for  the  reasons 
stated  in  a  preceding  chapter. 

This  comparatively  prosperous  state  of  Watt's  affairs 
did  not,  however,  last  long.  The  commercial  panic 
of  1772  put  a  sudden  stop  to  most  of  the  canal  schemes 
then  on  foot.  The  proprietors  of  the  Monkland  Canal 
could  not  find  the  necessary  means  for  carrying  on  the 
works,  and  Watt  consequently  lost  his  employment 
as  their  engineer.  He  was  thus  again  thrown  upon 
the  world,  and  where  was  he  to  look  for  help  ?  Natu- 
rally enough,  he  reverted  to  his  engine.  But  it  was 
in  the  hands  of  Dr.  Eoebuck,  who  was  overwhelmed 
with  debt,  and  upon  the  verge  of  insolvency.  It 

1  Watt    to    Small,   20th    October, 
1770.     Boulton  MSS. 

2  He  then  held  an  eighth  share  in  the 

pottery,  which  brought  him  in  about 
701.  a  year  clear. 


was  clear  that  no  help  was  to  be  looked  for  in  that 
quarter.  Again  he  bethought  him  of  Small's  invi- 
tations to  Birmingham,  and  of  the  interest  that  Boulton 
had  taken  in  the  engine  scheme.  Could  he  be  induced 
at  last  to  become  a  partner  ?  He  again  broached  the 
subject  to  Small,  telling  him  how  business"  had  failed 
him ;  fliat  he  was  now  ready  to  go  to  Birmingham 
and  engage  in  English  surveys,  or  do  anything  that 
would  bring  him  in  an  honest  income.  But,  above  all, 
would  Boulton  and  Small,  now  that  Eoebuck  had  failed, 
join  him  as  partners  in  the  engine  business  ? 

By  this  time  Boulton  himself  had  become  involved 
in  difficulties  arising  out  of  the  commercial  pressure  of 
the  time,  and  was  more  averse  than  ever  to  enter 
upon  such  an  enterprise.  But  having  ]ent  Roebuck  a 
considerable  sum  of  money,  it  occurred  to  Watt  that 
the  amount  might  be  taken  as  part  of  the  price  of 
Boulton's  share  in  the  patent,  if  he  would  consent  to 
enter  into  the  proposed  partnership.  He  represented 
to  Small  the  great  distress  of  Roebuck's  situation,  which 
he  had  done  all  that  he  could  to  relieve.  "  What  little  I 
can  do  for  him,"  he  said,  "is  purchased  by  denying 
myself  the  conveniences  of  life  my  station  requires, 
or  by  remaining  in  debt,  which  it  galls  me  to  the  bone 
to  owe."  Reverting  to  the  idea  of  a  partnership  with 
Boulton,  he  added,  "  I  shall  be  content  to  hold  a  very 
small  share  in  it,  or  none  at  all,  provided  I  am  to  be 
freed  from  my  pecuniary  obligations  to  Roebuck,  and 
have  any  kind  of  recompense  for  even  a  part  of  the 
anxiety  and  ruin  it  has  involved  me  in."  And  again  : 
"  Although  I  am  out  of  pocket  a  much  greater  sum 
upon  these  experiments  than  my  proportion  of  the 
profits  of  the  engine,  I  do  not  look  upon  that  money 
as  the  price  of  my  share,  but  as  money  spent  on  my 
education.  I  thank  God  I  have  now  reason  to  believe 
that  I  can  never,  while  I  have  health,  be  at  any  loss 

o  2 



CHAP.  X. 

to  pay  what  I  owe,  and  to  live  at  least  in  a  decent 
manner  ;  more,  I  do  not  violently  desire."  * 

In  a  subsequent  letter  Watt  promised  Small  that  he 
would  pay  an  early  visit  to  Birmingham,  and  added, "  there 
is  nowhere  I  so  much  wish  to  be."  In  replying,  Small 
pointed  ouf  a  difficulty  in  the  way  of  the  proposed  part- 
nership :  "It  is  impossible,"  he  wrote,  "  for  Mr.  Boulton 
and  me,  or  any  other  honest  man,  to  purchase,  espe- 
cially from  two  particular  friends,  what  has  no  market 
price,  and  at  a  time  when  they  might  be  inclined  to 
part  with  the  commodity  at  an  under  value."2  He 
added  that  the  high-pressure  wheel-engine  constructing 
at  Soho,  after  Watt's  plans,  was  nearly  ready,  and  that 
Wilkinson,  of  Bradley,  had  promised  that  the  boiler 
should  be  sent  next  week.  "  Should  the  experiment 
succeed,  or  seern  likely  to  succeed,"  he  said,  "  you  ought 
to  come  hither  immediately  upon  receiving  the  notice, 
which  I  will  instantly  send.  In  that  case  we  propose  to 
unite  three  things  under  your  direction,  which  would 
altogether,  we  hope,  prove  tolerably  satisfactory  to  you, 
at  least  until  your  merit  shall  be  better  known." 3 

But  before  the  experiment  with  the  wheel-engine 
could  be  tried  at  Soho,  the  financial  ruin  of  Dr.  Eoebuck 
brought  matters  to  a  crisis.  He  was  now  in  the  hands 

1  Watt  to    Small,    30th.    August, 
1772.     Boulton  MSS. 

2  Small  to  Watt,  16th  November, 
1772.     Boulton  MSS. 

3  About  this  time,  in  order  to  bring 
himself  and  his   engine   into   notice, 
Watt  contemplated  writing  a  treatise 
on   steam  and  its   applications.     "  I 
have    some    thoughts,"  he  wrote  to 
Small,   "  of  writing   a  book  on   the 
elements    of    the    theory    of    steam- 
engines,  in  which,   however,   I  shall 
only    give    the    enunciation    of    the 
perfect  engine.     This  book  might  do 
me  and  the  scheme  good.     It  would 
still  leave  the  world  in  the  dark  as  to 
the  true  construction  of  the  engine. 
Something  of  this  kind  is  necessary, 
as  Smeaton  is  labouring  hard  at  the 

subject,  and  if  I  can  make  no  profit, 
at  least  I  ought  not  to  lose  the  honour 
of  my  experiments." — Watt  to  Small, 
17th  August,  1773.  Boulton  MSS. 
To  this  letter  Small  replied,  "  The 
more  I  consider  the  propriety  of  your 
publishing  about  steam,  the  more  I 
wish  you  to  publish.  Smeaton  has 
only  trifled  hitherto,  though  he  may 
perhaps  discover  something.  He  told 
Boulton  some  time  ago  that  the  cir- 
cular engine  would  not  do.  He  said 
he  had  considered  it,  and  was  sure  of 
this.  As  B.  does  not  much  respect 
his  genius,  this  had  no  effect."  Watt's 
treatise  was,  however,  never  written ; 
his  attention  being  shortly  after  fully 
occupied  by  other  and  more  engrossing 

CHAP.  X. 



of  his  creditors,  who  found  his  affairs  in  inextricable 
confusion.  He  owed  some  1200/.  to  Boulton,  who,  rather 
than  claim  against  the  estate,  offered  to  take  Eoebuck's 
two-thirds  share  in  the  engine  patent  in  lieu  of  the 
debt.  The  creditors  did  not  value  the  engine  as  worth 
one  farthing,  and  were  but  too  glad  to  agree  to  the 
proposal.  As  Watt  himself  said,  it  was  only  "  paying 
one  bad  debt  with  another."  Boulton  wrote  to  Watt 
requesting  him  to  act  as  his  attorney  in  the  matter.  He 
confessed  that  he  was  by  no  means  sanguine  as  to  the 
success  of  the  engine,  but,  being  an  assayer,  he  was 
willing  "  to  assay  it  and  try  how  much  gold  it  contains." 
"  The  thing,"  he  added,  "  is  now  a  shadow ;  'tis  merely 
ideal,  and  will  cost  time  and  money  to  realise  it.  We 
have  made  no  experiment  yet  that  answers  my  purpose, 
and  the  times  are  so  horrible  throughout  the  mercantile 
part  of  Europe,  that  I  have  not  had  my  thoughts  suffi- 
ciently disengaged  to  think  of  new  schemes."  l 

So  soon  as  the  arrangement  for  the  transfer  of  Roe- 
buck's share  to  Boulton  was  concluded,  Watt  ordered 
the  engine  in  the  outhouse  at  Kinneil  to  be  taken  to 
pieces,  packed  up,  and  sent  to  Birmingham.2  Small 
again  pressed  him  to  come  and  superintend  the  work 
in  person.  But  before  he  could  leave  Scotland  it  was 
necessary  that  he  should  complete  the  survey  of  the 
Caledonian  Canal,  which  was  still  unfinished.  This 
done,  he  promised  at  once  to  set  out  for  Soho.  In  any 
case,  he  had  made  up  his  mind  to  leave  his  own  country, 
of  which  he  declared  himself  "  heart-sick." 3  He  hated 

1  Boulton   to  Watt,    29th    March, 
1773.     Boulton  MSS. 

2  "  As  1  found  the  engine  at  Kinneil 
perishing,  and  as  it  is  from  circum- 
stances highly  improper  that  it  should 
continue  there  longer,  and  as  1  have 
nowhere  else  to  put  it,  I  have  this 
week  taken  it  to  pieces  and  packed  up 
the    ironwork,   cylinder,   and    pump, 
ready  to  be  shipped  for  London  on  its 
way  to  Birmingham,  as  the  only  place 

where  the  experiments  can  be  com- 
pleted with  propriety.  I  suppose  the 
whole  will  not  weigh  above  four  tons. 
I  have  left  the  whole  of  the  wood- 
work until  we  see  what  we  are  to  do." 
—Watt  to  Small,  20th  May,  1773. 
Boulton  MSS. 

3  In  a  letter  to  Small,  Watt  wrote, 
"  I  begin  now  to  see  daylight  through 
the  affairs  that  have  detained  me  so 
long,  and  think  of  setting  out  for  you 



CHAP.  X. 

its  harsh  climate,  so  trying  to  his  fragile  constitution. 
Moreover,  he  disliked  the  people  he  had  to  deal  with. 
He  was  also  badly  paid  for  his  work,  a  whole  year's 
surveying  having  brought  him  in  only  about  200/. 
Out  of  this  he  had  paid  some  portion  to  Dr.  Roebuck  to 
help  him  in  his  necessity,  "  so  that,"  he  said,  "  I  can 
barely  support  myself  and  keep  untouched  the  small 
sum  I  have  allotted  for  my  visit  to  you."  ] 

Watt's  intention  was  either  to  try  to  find  employ- 
ment as  a  surveyor  or  engineer  in  England,  or  obtain 
a  situation  of  some  kind  abroad.  He  was,  however, 
naturally  desirous  of  ascertaining  whether  it  was  yet 
possible  to  do  anything  with  the  materials  which  now 
lay  at  Soho ;  and  with  the  object  of  visiting  his  friends 
there  and  superintending  the  erection  of  the  trial- 
engine,  he  at  length  made  his  final  arrangements  to 
leave  Glasgow.  We  find  him  arrived  in  Birmingham 
in  May,  1774,  where  he  at  once  entered  on  a  new  and 
important  phase  of  his  professional  career. 

in  a  fortnight  at  furthest.  I  am 
monstrously  plagued  with  my  head- 
aches, and  not  a  little  with  unpro- 
fitable business.  I  don't  mean  my 
own  whims :  these  I  never  work  at 
when  I  can  do  any  other  thing ;  but  I 
have  got  too  many  acquaintances ;  and 
there  are  too  many  beggars  in  this 
country,  which  I  am  afraid  is  going  to 
the  devil  altogether.  Provisions  con- 
tinue excessively  dear,  and  laws  are 
made  to  keep  them  so.  But  luckily 

the  spirit  of  emigrating  rises  high, 
and  the  people  seem  disposed  to  show 
their  oppressive  masters  that  they  can 
live  without  them.  By  the  time 
some  twenty  or  thirty  thousand  more 
leave  the  country,  matters  will  take  a 
turn  not  much  to  the  profit  of  the 
landholders." — Watt  to  Small,  29th 
April,  1774.  Boulton  MSS. 

1  Watt  to  Small,  25th  July,  f?73. 
Boulton  MSS. 




WATT  had  now  been  occupied  for  about  nine  years  in 
working  out  the  details  of  his  invention.  Five  of  these 
had  passed  since  he  had  taken  out  his  patent,  and  he 
was  still  struggling  with  difficulty.  Several  thousand 
pounds  had  been  expended  on  the  engine,  besides  much 
study,  labour,  and  ingenuity ;  yet  it  was  still,  as  Boul- 
ton  expressed  it,  "a  shadow,  as  regarded  its  practical 
utility  and  value."  So  long  as  Watt's  connexion  with 
Roebuck  continued,  there  was  indeed  very  little  chance 
of  getting  it  favourably  introduced  to  public  notice. 
What  it  was  yet  to  become  as  a  working  power  de- 
pended in  no  small  degree  upon  the  business  ability, 
the  strength  of  purpose,  and  the  length  of  purse  of  his 
new  partner. 

Had  Watt  searched  Europe  through,  probably  he 
could  not  have  found  a  man  better  fitted  than  Matthew 
Boulton  for  bringing  his  invention  fairly  before  the 
world.  Many  would  have  thought  it  rash  on  the  part 
of  the  latter,  burdened  as  he  was  with  heavy  liabilities, 
to  engage  in  a  new.  undertaking  of  so  speculative  a 
character.  Feasible  though  the  scheme  might  be,  it 
was  an  admitted  fact  that  nearly  all  the  experiments 
with  the  models  heretofore  made  had  proved  failures. 
It  is  true  Watt  firmly  believed  that  he  had  hit  upon 
the  right  principle,  and  he  was  as  sanguine  as  ever  of 
the  eventual  success  of  his  engine.  But  though  in- 
ventors are  usually  sanguine,  men  of  capital  do  not 
take  up  their  schemes  on  that  account.  Capitalists  are 
rather  disposed  to  regard  sanguine  inventors  as  vision- 


aries,  full  of  theories  of  what  is  possible  rather  than  of 
well-defined  plans  of  what  is  practicable  and  useful. 

Boulton,  however,  amongst  his  many  other  gifts  pos- 
sessed an  admirable  knowledge  of  character.  His  judg- 
ment of  men  was  almost  unerring.  In  Watt  he  had 
recognised  at  his  first  visit  to  Soho,  not  only  a  man 
of  original  inventive  genius,  but  a  plodding,  earnest, 
intent,  and  withal  an  exceedingly  modest  man ;  not  given 
to  puff,  but  on  the  contrary  rather  disposed  to  under- 
rate the  merit  of  his  inventions.  Different  though  their 
characters  were  in  most  respects,  Boulton  at  once  con- 
ceived a  hearty  liking  for  him.  The  one  displayed  in 
perfection  precisely  those  qualities  which  the  other 
wanted.  Boulton  was  a  man  of  ardent  and  generous 
temperament,  bold  and  enterprising,  undaunted  by  diffi- 
culty, and  possessing  an  almost  boundless  capacity  for 
work.  He  was  a  man  of  great  tact,  clear  perception, 
and  sound  judgment.  Moreover,  he  possessed  that 
indispensable  quality  of  perseverance,  without  which 
the  best  talents  are  of  comparatively  little  avail  in  the 
conduct  of  important  affairs.  While  Watt  hated  busi- 
ness, Boulton  loved  it.  He  had,  indeed,  a  genius  for 
business, — -a  gift  almost  as  rare  as  that  for  poetry,  for 
art,  or  for  war.  He  possessed  a  marvellous  power  of  or- 
ganisation. With  a  keen  eye  for  details  he  combined  a 
comprehensive  grasp  of  intellect.  While  his  senses  were 
so  acute,  that  when  sitting  in  his  office  at  Soho  he  could 
detect  the  slightest  stoppage  or  derangement  in  the 
machinery  of  that  vast  establishment,  and  send  his  mes- 
sage direct  to  the  spot  where  it  had  occurred,  his 
power  of  imagination  was  such  as  enabled  him  to  look 
clearly  along  extensive  lines  of  possible  action  in  Europe, 
America,  and  the  East.  For  there  is  a  poetic  as  well 
as  a  commonplace  side  to  business ;  and  the  man  of 
business  genius  lights  up  the  humdrum  routine  of  daily 
life  by  exploring  the  boundless  region  of  possibility 
wherever  it  may  lie  open  before  him. 




Boulton  had  already  won  his  way  to  the  very  front 
rank  in  his  calling,  honestly  and  honourably ;  and  he 
was  proud  of  it.  He  had  created  many  new  branches 
of  industry,  which  gave  regular  employment  to  hundreds 
of  families.  He  had  erected  and  organised  a  manufactory 
which  was  looked  upon  as  one  of  the  most  complete  of 
its  kind  in  England,  and  was  resorted  to  by  visitors  from 
all  parts  of  the  world.  But  Boulton  was  more  than  a 
man  of  business  :  he  was  a  man  of  culture,  and  the  friend 
of  cultivated  men.  His  hospitable  mansion  at  Soho  was 
the  resort  of  persons  eminent  in  art,  in  literature,  and 
in  science ;  and  the  love  and  admiration  with  which 
he  inspired  such  men  affords  one  of  the  best  proofs 
of  his  own  elevation  of  character.  Among  the  most 
'  intimate  of  his  friends  and  associates  were  Richard  Lovell 
Edge  worth,1  a  gentleman  of  fortune,  enthusiastically 
devoted  to  his  long-conceived  design  of  moving  land- 
carriages  by  steam ;  Captain  Keir,  an  excellent  practical 
chemist,  a  wit  and  a  man  of  learning;  Dr.  Small,  the 
accomplished  physician,  chemist,  and  mechanist ;  Josiah 
Wedgwood,  the  practical  philosopher  and  manufacturer, 
founder  of  a  new  and  important  branch  of  skilled 
industry ;  Thomas  Day,  the  ingenious  author  of  '  Sand- 
ford  and  Merton  ; '  Dr.  Darwin,  the  poet-physician  ;  Dr. 
Withering,  the  botanist ;  besides  others  who  afterwards 
joined  the  Soho  circle, — not  the  least  distinguished  of 
whom  were  Joseph  Priestley  and  James  Watt.2 

1  Mr.  Edgeworth.  was  first  intro- 
duced to  the  notice  of  Mr.  Boulton  in 
the  following  letter  from  Dr.  Darwin 
(1767) : — "  Dear  Boulton,  I  have  got 
with  me  a  mechanical  friend,  Mr. 
Edgeworth,  from  Oxfordshire,  —  the 
greatest  conjurer  I  ever  saw.  God 
send  fine  weather,  and  pray  come  to 
my  assistance,  and  prevail  on  Dr. 
Small  and  Mrs.  Boulton  to  attend  you 
to-morrow  morning,  and  we  will  re- 
convey  you  to  Birmingham  if  the 
devil  permit.  E.  has  the  principles 
of  nature  in  his  palm,  and  moulds 

them  as  he  pleases, — can  take  away 
polarity,  or  give  it  to  the  needle  by 
rubbing  it  thrice  on  the  palm  of  his 
hand!  And  can  see  through  two 
solid  oak  boards  without  glasses !  Won- 
derful !  astonishing ! !  diabolical ! ! ! 
Pray  tell  Dr.  Small  he  must  come  to 
see  these  miracles.  Adieu,  E.  Darwin." 
2  Kichard  Lovell  Edgeworth  says  of 
this  distinguished  coterie, — "  By  means 
of  Mr.  Keir  I  became  acquainted  with 
Dr.  Small  of  Birmingham,  a  man 
esteemed  by  all  who  knew  him,  and 
by  all  who  were  admitted  to  his 




Boulton  could  not  have  been  very  sanguine  at  first 
as  to  the  success  of  Watt's  engine.  There  were  a  thou- 
sand difficulties  in  the  way  of  getting  it  introduced 
to  general  use.  The  principal  one  was  the  difficulty  of 
finding  workmen  capable  of  making  it.  Watt  had 
been  constantly  worried  by  "villanous  bad  workmen," 
who  failed  to  make  any  model  that  would  go  properly. 
It  mattered  not  that  the  principle  of  the  engine  was 
right;  if  its  construction  was  beyond  the  skill  of 
ordinary  handicraftsmen,  the  invention  was  practically 
worthless.  The  great  Smeaton  was  of  this  opinion. 
When  he  saw  the  first  model  working  at  Soho,  he  ad- 
mitted the  excellence  of  the  contrivance,  but  predicted 
its  failure,  on  the  ground  that  it  was  too  complicated, 
and  that  workmen  were  not  to  be  found  capable  of' 
manufacturing  it  on  any  large  scale  for  general  uses. 

Watt  himself  felt  that,  if  the  engine  was  ever  to 
have  a  fair  chance,  it  was  now ;  and  that  if  Boulton, 
with  his  staff  of  skilled  workmen  at  command,  could 
not  make  it  go,  the  scheme  must  be  abandoned  hence- 
forward as  impracticable.  Boulton  must,  however,  have 
seen  the  elements  of  success  in  the  invention,  otherwise 
he  would  not  have  taken  up  with  it.  He  knew  the 
difficulties  Watt  had  encountered  in  designing  it,  and 
he  could  well  appreciate  the  skill  with  which  he  had 
overcome  them ;  for  Boulton  himself,  as  we  have  seen, 

friendship  beloved  with,  no  common 
enthusiasm.  Dr.  Small  formed  a  link 
which  combined  Mr.  Boulton,  Mr. 
Watt,  Dr.  Darwin,  Mr.  Wedgwood, 
Mr.  Day,  and  myself  together — men 
of  very  different  characters,  but  all 
devoted  to  literature  and  science. 
This  mutual  intimacy  has  never  been 
broken  but  by  death,  nor  have  any  of 
the  number  failed  to  distinguish  them- 
selves in  science  or  literature.  Some 
may  think  that  I  ought  with  due 
modesty  to  except  myself.  Mr.  Keir 
with  his  knowledge  of  the  world  and 
good  sense  ;  Dr.  Small,  with  his  bene- 
volence and  profound  sagacity ;  Wedg- 

wood, with  his  increasing  industry, 
experimental  variety,  and  calm  inves- 
tigation ;  Boulton,  with  his  mobility, 
quick  perception,  and  bold  adventure; 
Watt,  with  his  strong  inventive 
faculty,  undeviating  steadiness,  and 
bold  resources  ;  Darwin,  with  his  ima- 
gination, science,  and  poetical  excel- 
lence; and  Day,  with  his  unwearied 
research  after  truth,  his  integrity  and 
eloquence ; — proved  altogether  such  a 
society  as  few  men  have  had  the  good 
fortune  to  live  with  ;  such  an  assem- 
blage of  friends,  as  fewer  still  have 
had  the  happiness  to  possess,  and  keep 
through  life."— Memoirs,  i.  186. 


had  for  some  time  been  occupied  with  the  study  of  the 
subject.  But  the  views  of  Boulton  on  entering  into  his 
new  branch  of  business,  cannot  be  better  expressed  than 
in  his  own  words,  as  stated  in  a  letter  written  by  him 
to  Watt  in  1769,  when  then  invited  to  join  the  Roebuck 
partnership  : — 

"  The  plan  proposed  to  me," 1  said  he,  "  is  so  very  different  from 
that  which  I  had  conceived  at  the  time  I  talked  with  you  upon  the 
subject,  that  I  cannot  think  it  a  proper  one  for  me  to  meddle  with, 
as  I  do  not  intend  turning  engineer.  I  was  excited  by  two  motives 
to  offer  you  my  assistance — which  were,  love  of  you,  and  love  of  a 
money- getting  ingenious  project.  I  presumed  that  your  engine 
would  require  money,  very  accurate  workmanship,  and  extensive 
correspondence,  to  make  it  turn  out  to  the  best  advantage  ;  and  that 
the  best  means  of  keeping  up  our  reputation  and  doing  the  invention 
justice,  would  be  to  keep  the  executive  part  out  of  the  hands  of  the 
multitude  of  empirical  engineers,  who,  from  ignorance,  want  of 
experience,  and  want  of  necessary  convenience,  would  be  very  liable 
to  produce  bad  and  inaccurate  workmanship ;  all  which  deficiencies 
would  affect  the  reputation  of  the  invention.  To  remedy  which,  and 
to  produce  the  most  profit,  my  idea  was  to  settle  a  manufactory  near 
iny  own,  by  the  side  of  our  canal,  where  I  would  erect  all  the  con- 
veniences necessary  for  the  completion  of  engines,  and  from  which 
manufactory  we  would  serve  the  world  with  engines  of  all  sizes. 
By  these  means  and  your  assistance  we  could  engage  and  instruct 
some  excellent  workmen,  who  (with  more  excellent  tools  than  would 
be  worth  any  man's  while  to  procure  for  one  single  engine)  could 
execute  the  invention  20  per  cent,  cheaper  than  it  would  be 
otherwise  executed,  and  with  as  great  a  difference  of  accuracy  as 
there  is  between  the  blacksmith  and  the  mathematical  instrument 

He  went  on  to  state  that  he  was  willing  to  enter 
upon  the  speculation  with  these  views,  considering 
it  well  worth  his  while  "to  make  engines  for  all 
the  world,"  though  it  would  not  be  worth  his  while 
"  to  make  for  three  counties  only ;"  besides,  he  declared 
himself  averse  to  embark  in  any  trade  that  he  had  not 
the  inspection  of  himself.  He  concluded  by  saying, 

1  Dr.  lioebuck  proposed  to  confine 
I'M  Hilton's  profits  to  the  engine  busi- 
ness done  onlv  in  three  counties,  it 

will  be  observed  that  Boulton  declined 
to  negotiate  on  such  a  basis. 




"  Although  there  seem  to  be  some  obstructions  to  our 
partnership  in  the  engine  trade,  yet  I  live  in  hopes  that 
you  or  I  may  hit  upon  some  scheme  or  other  that  may 
associate  us  in  this  part  of  the  world,  which  would 
render  it  still  more  agreeable  to  me  than  it  is,  by  the 
acquisition  of  such  a  neighbour." l 

Five  years  had  passed  since  this  letter  was  written, 
during  which  the  engine  had  made  no  way  in  the 
world.  The  partnership  of  Roebuck  and  Watt  had 
yielded  nothing  but  vexation  and  debt ;  until  at  last, 
fortunately  for  Watt — though  at  the  time  he  regarded 
it  as  a  terrible  calamity — Roebuck  broke  down,  and 
the  obstruction  was  removed  which  had  prevented 
Watt  and  Boulton  from  coming  together.  The  latter 
at  once  reverted  to  the  plan  of  action  which  he  had 
with  so  much  sagacity  laid  down  in  1769  ;  and  he 
invited  Watt  to  take  up  his  abode  at  Soho  until  the 
necessary  preliminary  arrangements  could  be  made. 
He  thought  it  desirable,  in  the  first  place,  to  erect 
the  engine,  of  which  the  several  parts  had  been  sent 
to  Soho  from  Kinneil,  in  order,  if  possible,  to  exhibit 
a  specimen  of  the  invention  in  actual  work.  Boulton 
undertook  to  defray  all  the  necessary  expenses,  and 
to  find  competent  workmen  to  carry  out  the  instruc- 
tions of  Watt,  whom  Boulton  was  also  to  maintain 
until  the  engine  business  had  become  productive.2 

1  Boulton  to  Watt,  7th  Februarv, 
1769.     Boulton  MSS. 

2  In  a  statement  prepared  by  Mr. 
Boulton  for  the  consideration  of  the 
arbitrators      between      himself     and 
Pothergill  as  to   the   affairs   of  that 
firm,  the  following  passage  occurs : — 
"  The  first  engine  that  was  erected  at 
Soho  I   purchased  of  Mr.  Watt  and 
Dr.  Roebuck.     The  cylinder  was  cast 
of  solid  grain  tin,  which  engine,  with 
the  boiler,  the  valves,  the  condense]-, 
and   the   pumps,  were  all  sent  from 
Scotland  to  Soho.     This  engine  was 
erected  for  the  use  of  the  Soho  manu- 
factory, and  for  the  purpose  of  making 

experiments  upon  by  Mr.  Watt,  who 
occupied  two  years  of  his  time  at  Soho 
with  that  object :  and  lived  there  at 
Mr.  Boulton's  expense.  Nevertheless 
Mr.  Watt  often  assisted  Boulton  and 
Fothergill  in  anything  in  his  power, 
and  made  one  journey  to  London  upon 
their  business,  when  he  worked  at 
adjusting  and  marking  weights  manu- 
factured by  Boulton  and  Fothergill." 
In  another  statement  of  a  similar 
kind,  Mr.  Boulton  says, — "  The  only 
fire-engine  that  was  erected  at  Soho 
prior  to  Boulton  and  Watt  obtaining 
the  Act  of  Parliament,  was  entirely 
made  and  erected  in  Scotland,  and  was 


The  materials  brought  from  Kinneil  were  accord- 
ingly put  together  with  as  little  delay  as  possible ; 
and,  thanks  to  the  greater  skill  of  the  workmen  who 
assisted  in  its  erection,  the  engine,  when  finished, 
worked  in  a  more  satisfactory  manner  than  it  had 
ever  done  before.  In  November,  1774,  Watt  wrote  Dr. 
Eoebuck,  informing  him  of  the  success  of  his  trials; 
on  which  the  Dr.  expressed  his  surprise  that  the 
engine  should  have  worked  at  all,  "  considering  the 
slightness  of  the  materials  and  its  long  exposure  to  the 
injuries  of  the  weather."  Watt  also  wrote  to  his 
father  at  Grreenock.  "  The  business  I  am  here  about 
has  turned  out  rather  successful ;  that  is  to  say,  the 
fire-engine  I  have  invented  is  now  going,  and  answers 
much  better  than  any  other  that  has  yet  been  made ; 
and  I  expect  that  the  invention  will  be  very  beneficial 
to  me." ]  Such  was  Watt's  modest  announcement  of 
the  successful  working  of  the  engine  on  which  such 
great  results  depended. 

Much,  however,  remained  to  be  done  before  either 
Watt  or  Boulton  could  reap  any  benefit  from  the 
invention.  Six  years  out  of  the  fourteen  for  which  the 
patent  was  originally  taken  had  already  expired  ;  and 
all  that  had  been  accomplished  was  the  erection  of  this 
experimental  engine  at  Soho.  What  further  period 
might  elapse  before  capitalists  could  be  brought  to  recog- 
nise the  practical  uses  of  the  invention  could  only  be 
guessed  at ;  but  the  probability  was  that  the  patent  right 
would  expire  long  before  such  a  demand  for  the  engines 
arose  as  should  remunerate  Boulton  and  Watt  for  their 
investment  of  time,  labour,  and  capital.  And  the  patent 
once  expired,  the  world  at  large  would  be  free  to  make 
the  engines,  though  Watt  himself  had  not  recovered 

removed  here  by  sea,  being  a  part  of  i  expense  of  erecting  them." — Boulton 
my  bargain  with  Roebuck.     All  that    MSS. 

were  afterwards  erected  were  for  per- 
sons that  ordered  them,  and  were  at  the 

1  Quoted  in  Muirhead's  '  Mechanical 
Inventions  of  James  Watt,'  ii.  79. 


one  farthing  towards  repaying  him  for  the  long  years 
of  experiment,  study,  and  ingenuity  bestowed  by  him  in 
bringing  his  invention  to  perfection.  These  considera- 
tions made  Boultoii  hesitate  before  launching  out  the 
money  necessary  to  provide  the  tools,  machinery,  and 
buildings,  for  carrying  on  the  intended  manufacture  on 
a  large  scale  and  in  the  best  style. 

When  it  became  known  that  Boulton  had  taken  an 
interest  in  a  new  engine  for  pumping  water,  he  had 
many  inquiries  about  it  from  the  mining  districts.  The 
need  of  a  more  effective  engine  than  any  then  in  use 
was  every  year  becoming  more  urgent.  The  powers  of 
Newcomen's  engine  had  been  tried  to  the  utmost.  So  long 
as  the  surface-lodes  were  worked,  its  power  was  suffi- 
cient to  clear  the  mines  of  water ;  but  as  they  were  carried 
deeper,  it  was  found  totally  inadequate  for  the  work, 
and  many  mines  were  consequently  becoming  gradually 
drowned  out  and  abandoned.  The  excessive  consump- 
tion of  coals  by  the  Newcomen  engines  was  another 
serious  objection  to  their  use,  especially  in  districts  such 
as  Cornwall,  where  coal  was  very  dear.  When  Small 
was  urging  Watt  to  come  to  Birmingham  arid  make 
engines,  he  wrote  :  "A  friend  of  Boul  ton's,  in  Cornwall, 
sent  us  word  a  few  days  ago  that  four  or  five  copper- 
mines  are  just  going  to  be  abandoned  because  of  the 
high  price  of  coals,  and  begs  us  to  apply  to  them  instantly. 
The  York  Buildings  Company  delay  rebuilding  their 
engine,  with  great  inconvenience  to  themselves,  waiting 
for  yours.  Yesterday  application  was  made  to  me  by  a 
Mining  Company  in  Derbyshire  to  know  when  you  are 
to  be  in  England  about  the  engines,  because  they  must 
quit  their  mine  if  you  cannot  relieve  them."  The  neces- 
sity for  an  improved  pumping  power  had  set  many 
inventors  to  work  besides  Watt,  and  some  of  the  less 
scrupulous  of  them  were  already  trying  to  adopt  his 
principle  in  such  a  way  as  to  evade  his  patent.  Moore, 
the  London  lineiidraper,  and  Hatley,  one  of  Watt's 


Carron  workmen,  had  brought  out  and  were  pushing- 
engines  similar  to  Watt's ;  the  latter  having  stolen  and 
sold  for  a  considerable  sum  working  drawings  of  the 
Kinneil  engine. 

From  these  signs  Boulton  saw  that,  in  the  event  of 
the  engine  proving  successful,  he  and  his  partner  would 
have  to  defend  the  invention  against  a  host  of  pirates ; 
and  he  became  persuaded  that  he  would  not  be  justified 
in  risking  his  capital  in  the  establishment  of  a  steam- 
engine  manufactory  unless  a  considerable  extension  of 
the  patent-right  could  be  secured.  To  ascertain  whether 
this  was  practicable,  Watt  proceeded  to  London  in  the 
beginning  of  1775,  to  confer  with  his  patent  agent  and 
take  the  opinion  of  counsel  on  the  subject.  Mr.  Wed- 
derburn,  who  was  advised  with,  recommended  that  the 
existing  patent  should  be  surrendered,  and  in  that  case 
he  did  not  doubt  that  a  new  one  would  be  granted. 
While  in  London,  Watt  looked  out  for  possible  orders  for 
his  engine  :  "  I  have,"  he  wrote  Boulton,  "  a  prospect  of 
two  orders  for  fire-engines  here,  one  to  water  Piccadilly, 
and  the  other  to  serve  the  south  end  of  Blackfriars 
Bridge  with  water.  I  have  taken  advice  of  several 
people  whom  I  could  trust  about  the  patent.  They  all 
agree  that  an  Act  would  be  much  better  and  cheaper,  a 
patent  being  now  130/.,  the  Act,  if  obtainable,  110/. 
The  present  patent  has  eight  years  still  to  run,  bearing 
date  January,  1769.  I  understand  there  will  be  an 
almost  unlimited  sale  for  wheel-engines  to  the  West 
Indies,  at  the  rate  of  100/.  for  each  horse's  power."  l 

Watt  also  occupied  some  of  his  time  in  London  in 
superintending  the  adjustment  of  weights  manufactured 
by  Boulton  and  Fothergill,  then  sold  in  considerable 
quantities  through  their  London  agent.  That  he  con- 
tinued to  take  an  interest  in  his  old  business  of  mathe- 
matical instrument  making  is  apparent  from  the  visits 

Watt  to  Boulton,  31st  January,  1775.     JVmlton  MSS. 


which  he  made  to  several  well-known  shops.  One  of 
the  articles  which  he  examined  with  most  interest  was 
Short's  Gregorian  telescope.  At  other  times,  by  Boulton's 
request,  he  went  to  see  the  few  steam-engines  then  at 
work  in  London  and  the  neighbourhood,  and  make 
inquiries  as  to  their  performances.  With  that  object  he 
examined  the  engines  at  the  New  River,  Hungerford, 
and  Chelsea.  At  the  latter  place,  he  said,  "  it  was  im- 
possible to  try  the  quantity  of  injection,  and  the  fellow 
told  me  lies  about  the  height  of  the  column  of  water." 
But  Watt  soon  grew  tired  of  London,  "  running  from 
street  to  street  all  day  about  gilding,"  inquiring  after 
metal-rollers,  silver-platers,  and  button-makers.  He  did 
his  best,  however,  to  execute  the  commissions  which 
Boulton  from  time  to  time  sent  him ;  and  when  these 
were  executed,  he  returned  to  Birmingham  to  confer 
with  his  friends  as  to  the  steps  to  be  taken  with  respect 
to  the  patent.  The  result  of  his  conferences  with  Boulton 
and  Small  was,  that  it  was  determined  to  take  steps  to 
apply  for  an  Act  for  its  extension  in  the  ensuing  session 
of  Parliament. 

Watt  went  up  to  London  a  second  time  for  the  pur- 
pose of  having  the  Bill  drawn.  He  had  scarcely  arrived 
there  when  the  sad  intelligence  reached  him  of  the 
death  of  Dr.  Small.  He  had  long  been  ailing,  yet 
the  event  was  a  shock  alike  to  himself  and  Boulton. 
The  latter  wrote  Watt  in  the  bitterness  of  his  grief,  "  If 
there  were  not  a  few  other  objects  yet  remaining  for 
me  to  settle  my  affections  upon,  I  should  wish  also  to 
take  up  my  abode  in  the  mansions  of  the  dead."  Watt 
replied,  reminding  him  of  the  sentiments  of  their  departed 
friend,  as  to  the  impropriety  of  indulging  in  unavailing 
sorrow,  the  best  refuge  from  which  was  the  more  sedu- 
lous performance  of  duty.  "  Come,  my  dear  sir,"  said 
he,  "  and  immerse  yourself  in  this  sea  of  business  as 
soon  as  possible.  Pay  a  proper  respect  to  your  friend  by 
obeying  his  precepts.  I  wait  for  you  with  impatience, 


and  assure  yourself  no  endeavour  of  mine  shall  be  want- 
ing to  render  life  agreeable  to  you." 

It  had  been  intended  to  include  Small  in  the  steam- 
engine  partnership  on  the  renewal  of  the  patent.  He 
had  been  consulted  in  all  the  stages  of  the  proceedings, 
and  one  of  the  last  things  he  did  was  to  draw  up  Watt's 
petition  for  the  Bill.  No  settled  arrangement  had  yet 
been  made — not  even  between  Boulton  and  Watt.  Every- 
thing depended  upon  the  success  of  the  application  for 
the  extension  of  the  patent. 

Meanwhile,  through  the  recommendation  of  his  old 
friend  Dr.  Eobison,  then  in  Russia  officiating  as  Mathe- 
matical Professor  at  the  Government  Naval  School  at 
Cronstadt,  Watt  was  offered  an  appointment  under 
the  Russian  Government,  at  a  salary  of  about  1000/. 
a  year.  He  was  thus  presented  with  a  means  of  escape 
from  his  dependence  upon  Boulton,  and  for  the  first 
time  in  his  life  had  the  prospect  before  him  of  an 
income  that  to  him  would  have  been  affluence.  But  he 
entertained  strong  objections  to  settling  in  Russia  :  he 
objected  to  its  climate,  its  comparative  barbarism,  and, 
notwithstanding  the  society  of  his  friend  Robison,  to 
the  limited  social  resources  of  St.  Petersburg.  Besides, 
Boulton's  favours  were  so  gracefully  conferred,  that  the 
dependence  on  him  was  not  felt ;  for  he  made  the  reci- 
pient of  his  favours  feel  as  if  the  obligation  were  entirely 
on  the  side  of  the  giver.  "  Your  going  to  Russia  staggers 
me,"  he  wrote  to  Watt;  "the  precariousness  of  your 
health,  the  dangers  of  so  long  a  journey  or  voyage,  and 
my  own  deprivation  of  consolation,  render  me  a  little 
uncomfortable ;  but  I  wish  to  assist  and  advise  you  for 
the  best,  without  regard  to  self."  The  result  was,  that 
Watt  determined  to  wait  the  issue  of  the  application  for 
the  extension  of  his  patent. 

The  Bill  was  introduced  to  Parliament  on  the  28th  of 
February,  1775,  and  it  was  obvious  from  the  first  that 
it  would  have  considerable  opposition  to  encounter.  The 


mining  interest  had  looked  forward  to  Watt's  invention 
as  a  means  of  helping  them  out  of  their  difficulties  and 
giving  a  new  value  to  their  property  by  clearing  the 
drowned  mines  of  water.  They  therefore  desired  to 
have  the  free  use  of  the  engine  at  the  earliest  possible 
period ;  and  when  it  was  proposed  to  extend  the  patent 
by  Act  of  Parliament,  they  set  up  with  one  accord  the 
cry  of  "  No  monopoly."  Up  to  the  present  time,  as  we 
have  seen,  the  invention  had  been  productive  to  Watt  of 
nothing  but  loss,  labour,  anxiety,  and  headaches ;  and  it 
was  only  just  that  a  reasonable  period  should  be  allowed 
to  enable  him  to  derive  some  advantage  from  the  results 
of  his  application  and  ingenuity.  But  the  mining 
interest  took  a  different  view  of  the  matter.  They 
did  not  see  the  necessity  of  recognising  the  rights  of  the 
inventor  beyond  the  term  of  his  existing  patent,  and 
they  held  that  the  public  interests  would  suffer  if  the  pro- 
posed "  monopoly  "  were  granted.  Nor  were  they  without 
supporters  in  Parliament,  for  among  the  most  strenuous 
we  find  the  name  of  Edmund  Burke, — influenced,  it  is 
supposed,  by  certain  mining  interests  in  the  neighbour- 
hood of  Bristol,  which  city  he  then  represented. 

There  is  no  doubt  that  the  public  would  have  benefited 
by  Watt's  invention  having  been  made  free  to  all.  But 
it  was  not  for  the  public  merely  that  Watt  had  been 
working  at  his  engine  for  fifteen  long  years.  He 
was  a  man  of  comparatively  small  means,  and  had 
been  buoyed  up  and  stimulated  to  renewed  exertion 
during  that  time  by  the  hope  of  ultimate  reward  in 
the  event  of  its  success.  If  labour  could  give  a  man 
a  title  to  property  in  his  invention,  Watt's  claim  was 
clear.  The  condensing-engine  had  been  the  product  df 
his  own  skill,  contrivance,  and  brain-work.  But  there 
has  always  been  a  difficulty  in  getting  the  claims  of 
mere  brain-work  recognised.  Had  he  expended  his 
labour  in  building  a  house  instead  of  in  contriving  a 
machine,  his  right  of  property  would  at  once  have  been 

CHAP.  XI.  WATT'S  "CASE."  211 

acknowledged.  As  it  was,  he  had  to  contend  for  justice 
and  persuade  the  legislature  of  the  reasonableness  of 
granting  his  application  for  an  extension  of  the  patent. 
In  the  "  Case  "  which  he  drew  up  for  distribution  amongst 
the  members  of  the  Lower  House,  on  the  motion  being 
carried  for  the  recommittal  of  the  Bill,  he  set  forth  that 
having,  after  great  labour  and  expense  extending  over 
many  years,  succeeded  in  completing  working  engines 
of  each  of  the  two  kinds  he  had  invented,  he  found  that 
they  could  not  be  carried  into  profitable  execution  without 
the  further  expenditure  of  large  sums  of  money  in 
erecting  mills,  and  purchasing  the  various  materials 
and  utensils  necessary  for  making  them ;  and  from  the 
reluctance  with  which  the  public  generally  adopt  new 
inventions,  he  was  afraid  that  the  whole  term  granted 
by  his  patent  would  expire  before  the  engines  should 
have  come  into  general  use  and  any  portion  of  his 
expenses  be  repaid  :— 

"The  inventor  of  these  new  engines,"  said  he,  "is  sorry  that 
gentlemen  of  knowledge,  and  avowed  admirers  of  his  invention, 
should  oppose  the  Bill  by  putting  it  in  the  light  of  a  monopoly. 
He  never  had  any  intention  of  circumscribing  or  claiming  the 
inventions  of  others;  and  the  Bill  is  now  drawn  up  in  such  a 
manner  as  sufficiently  guards  those  rights,  and  must  oblige  him 
to  prove  his  own  right  to  every  part  of  his  invention  which  may  at 
any  time  be  disputed.  ...  If  the  invention  be  valuable,  it  has  been 
made  so  by  his  industry,  and  at  his  expense ;  he  has  struggled  with 
bad  health,  and  many  other  inconveniences,  to  bring  it  to  perfection, 
and  all  he  wishes  is  to  be  secured  in  the  profits  which  he  may 
reasonably  expect  from  it, — profits  which  he  cannot  obtain  without  an 
exertion  of  his  abilities  to  bring  it  into  practice,  by  which  the  public 
must  be  the  greatest  gainers,  and  which  are  limited  by  the  per- 
formance of  the  common  engines ;  for  he  cannot  expect  that  any 
person  will  make  use  of  his  contrivance,  unless  he  can  prove  to  them 
that  savings  will  take  place,  and  that  his  demand  for  the  privilege 
of  using  the  invention  will  amount  only  to  a  reasonable  part  of 
them.  Xo  man  will  lay  aside  a  known  engine,  and  stop  his  work 
to  erect  one  of  a  new  contrivance,  unless  he  is  certain  to  be  a  very 
great  gainer  by  the  exchange ;  and  if  any  contrivance  shall  so 
far  excel  others  as  to  enforce  the  use  of  it,  it  is  reasonable  that  the 
author  of  such  a  contrivance  should  be  rewarded." 

p  2 




These  weighty  arguments  could  not  fail  to  produce 
an  impression  on  the  minds  of  all  reasonable  men,  and 
the  result  was,  that  Parliament  passed  an  Act  extend- 
ing Watt's  patent  right  for  the  further  term  of  twenty- 
four  years.  Watt  wrote  Boulton  on  the  27th  May, — "I 
hope  to  be  clear  to  come  away  by  Wednesday  or  Thurs- 
day. I  am  heartily  sick  of  this  town  and  fort  ennuyee 
since  you  left  it.  Dr.  Eoebuck  is  likely  to  get  an  order, 
out  of  Smeaton's  hands,  for  an  engine  in  Yorkshire  that, 
according  to  Smeaton's  calculation,  will  burn  1200/.  per 
annum  in  coals.  But  this  has  had  one  bad  effect.  It 
has  made  the  Doctor  repent  of  his  bargain  and  wish 
again  to  be  upon  the  1-1  Oth  [profits]  ;  but  we  must  see 
to  keep  him  right  if  possible,  so  don't  vex  yourself  about 
it."  Dr.  Eoebuck  had  been  finally  settled  with  before 
the  passing  of  the  Act.  It  had  been  arranged  that 
Boulton  should  pay  him  1000/.  out  of  the  first  profits 
arising  from  his  share  in  the  engine,  making  about 
2200/.  in  all  paid  by  Boulton  to  Eoebuck  for  his  two- 
thirds  of  the  patent.1 

Watt  returned  to  Birmingham  to  set  about  the 
making  of  the  engines  for  which  orders  had  already  been 
received.  Boulton  had  been  busily  occupied  during  his 
absence  in  experimenting  on  the  Soho  engine.  A  new 
18-inch  cylinder  had  been  cast  for  it  at  Bersham  by  John 
Wilkinson,  the  great  ironfounder,2  who  had  contrived  a 

1  Bonds  were  given  for  the  1000Z., 
but  the    assignees    of    Roebuck    be- 
coming   impatient    for    the    money, 
Boulton  discharged  them  to  get  rid  of 
their   importunity,   long    before   any 
profits   had   been    derived  from    the 
manufacture  of  the  engines. 

2  John  Wilkinson,  the  "  father  of 
the  iron-trade  "  as  he  styled  himself, 
was  a  man  of  extraordinary  energy  of 
character.     He  was  strong-headed  and 
strong-tempered  and  of  inflexible  de- 
termination.    His  father,  Isaac  Wil- 
kinson, who  originally  started  the  iron 
trade  at  Wrexham,  was  a  man  pos- 
sessed of  quick  discernment  and  versa- 

tile talents,  though  he  wanted  that 
firmness  and  constancy  of  purpose 
which  so  eminently  distinguished  his 
son.  Isaac  Wilkinson  used  thus  to 
tell  his  own  history : — "  I  worked," 
said  he,  "  at  a  forge  in  the  north. 
My  masters  gave  me  12s.  a  week :  I 
was  content.  They  raised  me  to  14s. : 
I  did  not  ask  them  for  it.  They  went 
on  to  16s.,  18s. :  I  never  asked  them 
for  the  advances.  They  gave  me  a 
guinea  a  week !  Said  I  to  myself,  if  I 
am  worth  a  guinea  a  week  to  you, 
I  am  worth  more  to  myself!  I  left 
them,  and  began  business  on  my  own 
account — at  first  in  a  small  way.  I 




machine  for  boring  it  with  accuracy.  This  cylinder  was 
substituted  for  the  tin  one  brought  from  Kinneil,  and 
other  improvements  having  been  introduced,  the  engine 
was  again  set  to  work  with  very  satisfactory  results. 
TV'att  found  his  partner  in  good  spirits ;  not  less  elated 
by  the  performances  of  the  model  than  by  the  passing 
of  the  Act ;  and  arrangements  were  at  once  set  on  foot 
for  carrying  on  the  manufacture  of  engines  upon  an 
extensive  scale.  Applications  for  terms,  followed  by 
orders,  shortly  came  in  from  the  mining  districts ;  and 
before  long  the  works  at  Soho  were  resounding  with 
the  clang  of  hammers  and  machinery  employed  in 
manufacturing  steam-engines  for  all  parts  of  the  civilised 

prospered.  I  grew  tired  of  my  leathern 
bellows,  and  determined  to  make  iron 
ones.  Everybody  laughed  at  me.  I 
did  it,  and  applied  the  steam-engine 
to  blow  them ;  and  they  all  cried, 
*  Who  could  have  thought  it ! ' "  His 
son  John  carried  on  the  operations 
connected  with  the  iron  manufacture 
on  a  far  more  extensive  scale  than  his 
father  at  Bradley,  Willey,  Snedshill, 
and  Bersham.  His  castings  were  the 
largest  until  then  attempted,  and 
the  boring  machinery  which  he  in- 
vented was  the  best  of  its  kind.  All 
the  castings  for  Boulton  and  Watt's 
large  Cornish  engines  were  manufac- 
tured by  him,  previous  to  the  erection 
of  the  Soho  foundry.  He  also  bored 
cannon  for  the  government  on  a  large 
scale.  Amongst  his  other  merits, 
John  Wilkinson  is  clearly  entitled  to 
that  of  having  built  the  first  iron 
vessel.  It  was  made  to  bring  peat- 
moss to  his  iron  furnace  at  Wilson 
House,  near  Castle  Head,  in  Cartmel, 
in  order  to  smelt  the  hematite  iron- 
ore  of  Furness.  This  was  followed  by 
other  larger  iron  vessels,  one  of  which 
was  of  40  tons  burden,  and  used  to 
carry  iron  down  the  Severn.  Before 

Wilkinson's  first  iron  boat  was 
launched,  people  laughed  at  the  idea 
of  its  floating, — as  it  was  so  well 
known  that  iron  immediately  sank  in 
water !  In  a  letter  to  Mr.  Stockdale, 
of  Carke,  Cartmel,  the  original  of 
which  is  before  us,  dated  Broseley, 

j  14th  July,  1787,  Mr.  Wilkinson  says, 
"Yesterday  week  my  iron  boat  was 
launched, — answers  ail  my  expecta- 
tions, and  has  convinced  the  unbe- 
lievers, who  were  999  in  1000.  It 
will  be  only  a  nine  days'  wonder,  and 

'  afterwards  a  Columbus's  egg."  In 
another  letter,  dated  Bradley  Iron 

:  Works,  24th  Oct.,  1788,  he  writes  to 
the  same, — "  There  have  been  two 
iron  vessels  launched  in  my  service 
since  1st  September.  One  is  a  canal- 
boat  for  this  navigation,  the  other  a 
barge  of  40  tons,  for  the  river  Severn. 
The  last  was  floated  on  Moriday,  and 
is,  I  expect,  now  at  Stourport,  a-lading 
with  bar-iron.  My  clerk  at  Broseley 
advises  me  that  she  swims  remarkably 
light,  and  exceeds  even  my  own  ex- 
pectations." For  further  notice  of 
John  Wilkinson,  see  'Lives  of  the 
Engineers,'  ii.  337,  356. 




WATT  now  arranged  to  take  up  his  residence  in  Bir- 
mingham until  the  issue  of  the  steam-engine  enterprise 
could  be  ascertained,  and  he  went  down  to  Glasgow  to 
bring  up  his  two  children,  whom  he  had  left  in  charge 
of  their  relatives.  Boulton  had  taken  a  house  on  Harper's 
Hill,  which  was  in  readiness  for  the  reception  of  the 
family  on  their  arrival  about  the  end  of  August,  1775. 
Regent' s-place,  Harper's  Hill,  was  then  the  nearest  house 
to  Soho  on  that  side  of  Birmingham.  It  was  a  double 
house,  substantially  built  in  brick,  with  stone  facings, 
standing  on  the  outskirts  of  the  town,  surrounded  by 
fields  and  gardens.  St.  Paul's,  the  nearest  church,  was 
not  built  until  four  years  after  Watt  took  up  his  abode 
there.  But  the  house  at  Harper's  Hill  is  in  the  country 


no  longer  :  it  is  now  surrounded  in  all  directions  by 
dense  masses  of  buildings,  and  is  itself  inhabited  by 
working  people. 

The  first  engine  made  at  Soho  was  one  ordered  by 
John  Wilkinson  to  blow  the  bellows  of  his  ironworks  at 
Broseley.  Great  interest  was,  of  course,  felt  in  the 
success  of  this  engine.  Watt  took  great  pains  with 
the  drawings ;  the  workmen  did  their  best  to  execute 
the  several  parts  accurately,  for  it  was  understood  that 
many  orders  depended  upon  whether  it  worked  satis- 
factorily or  not.  Wilkinson's  iron-manufacturing  neigh- 
bours, who  were  contemplating  the  erection  of  Newco- 
meii  engines,  suspended  their  operations  until  they 
had  an  opportunity  of  seeing  what  Boulton  and  Watt's 
engine  could  do ;  and  all  looked  forward  to  its  com- 
pletion with  the  most  eager  interest.  When  all  was 
ready  at  Soho,  the  materials  were  packed  up  and  sent 
to  Broseley,  Watt  accompanying  them  to  superintend 
the  erection.  He  had  as  yet  no  assistant  to  whom  he 
could  intrust  such  a  piece  of  work,  on  which  so  much 
depended.  The  engine  was  erected  and  ready  for  use 
about  the  beginning  of  1776.  As  it  approached  com- 
pletion Watt  became  increasingly  anxious  to  make  a 
trial  of  its  powers.  But  Boulton  wrote  to  him  not  to 
hurry — not  to  let  the  engine  make  a  stroke  until  every 
possible  hinderance  to  its  successful  action  had  been 
removed ;  "  and  then,"  said  he,  "  in  the  name  of  God, 
fall  to  and  do  your  best."  The  result  of  the  extreme 
care  taken  with  the  construction  and  erection  of  the 
engine  was  entirely  satisfactory.  It  worked  to  the  ad- 
miration of  all  who  saw  it,  and  the  fame  of  Boulton  and 
Watt  became  great  in  the  midland  counties. 

While  Watt  was  thus  occupied,  Boulton  was  pushing 
on  the  new  buildings  at  Soho.  He  kept  his  partner  fully 
advised  of  all  that  was  going  on.  "  The  new  forging- 
shop,"  he  wrote,  "  looks  very  formidable  :  the  roof  is 


nearly  put  on,  and  the  hearths  are  both  built."  Tools  and 
machinery  were  being  prepared,  and  all  looked  hopeful 
for  the  future.  Orders  were  coming  in  for  engines. 
One  in  hand  for  Bloomfield  Colliery  was  well  advanced. 
Many  inquiries  had  come  from  Cornwall.  Mr.  Papps,  of 
Truro,  was  anxious  to  introduce  the  engine  in  that  county. 
Out  of  forty  engines  there,  only  eighteen  were  in  work ; 
so  that  there  was  a  fine  field  for  future  operations.  "  Pray 
tell  Mr.  Wilkinson,"  Boulton  added,  "  to  get  a  dozen 
cylinders  cast  and  bored,  from  12  to  50  inches  diameter, 
and  as  many  condensers  of  suitable  sizes.  The  latter 
must  be  sent  here,  as  we  will  keep  them  ready  fitted  up, 
and  then  an  engine  can  be  turned  out  of  hand  in  two  or 
three  weeks.  I  have  fixed  my  mind  upon  making  from 
twelve  to  fifteen  reciprocating  and  fifty  rotative  engines 
per  annum.  I  assure  you  that  of  all  the  toys  and  trinkets 
which  we  manufacture  at  Soho,  none  shall  take  the  place 
of  fire-engines  in  respect  of  my  attention."  ' 

Boulton  was  not,  however,  exclusively  engrossed  by 
engine  affairs.  Among  other  things  he  informed  Watt 
that  he  had  put  his  little  boy  Jamie  to  a  good  school, 
and  that  he  was  very  much  occupied,  as  usual,  in  enter- 
taining visitors.  "  The  Empress  of  Eussia,"  he  wrote, 
"  is  now  at  my  house,  and  a  charming  woman  she  is." 
The  Empress  afterwards  sent  Boulton  her  portrait,  and 
it  was  long  one  of  the  ornaments  of  Soho.  Amidst 
his  various  occupations  he  contrived  to  find  leisure  for 
experiments  on  minerals,  having  received  from  a  corre- 
spondent in  Wales  a  large  assortment  of  iron-ores  to 
assay.  He  was  also  trying  experiments  on  the  model 
engine,  the  results  of  which  were  duly  communicated  to 
his  partner.2 

1  Boulton  to  Watt,  24th  February, 
1776.     Boulton  MSS. 

Watt  was  himself  occupied,  during 

in  devising  improvements  in  the  de- 
tails of  his  engine.  Boulton  says — "I 
observe  you  are  thinking  of  making 

his  temporary  residence  at  Broseley,  ;  an  inverted  cylinder.     Pray  how  are 


On  Watt's  return  to  Soho,  Boulton  proceeded  to 
London  011  financial  affairs,  as  well  as  to  look  after 
engine  orders.  He  there  found  reports  in  circulation 
among  the  engineering  class  that  the  new  engine  had 
proved  a  failure.  The  Society  of  Engineers  in  Holborn, 
of  which  Smeaton  was  the  great  luminary,  had  settled 
it  that  neither  the  tools  nor  the  workmen  existed  that 
could  manufacture  so  complex  a  machine  with  sufficient 
precision,  and  it  was  asserted  that  all  the  ingenuity  and 
skill  of  Soho  had  been  unable  to  conquer  the  defects  of 
the  piston.  "So  said  Holmes,  the  clockmaker,"  wrote 
Boulton, — Holmes  being  the  intimate  friend  of  Smeaton ; 
"  but  no  language  will  be  sufficiently  persuasive  on  that 
head  except  the  good  performance  of  the  engines  them- 
selves." l  Boulton,  therefore,  urged  the  completion  of 
the  engine  then  in  hand  for  Cooke  and  Company's  dis- 
tillery at  Stratford-le-Bow,  near  London.  "  Wilby," 
[the  managing  partner,]  said  he,  "  seems  very  impatient, 
and  so  am  I,  both  for  the  sake  of  reputation  as  well  as 
to  begin  to  turn  the  tide  of  money," — the  current  of 
which  had  as  yet  been  all  outwards.  Boulton  went  to 
see  the  York  Buildings  engine,  which  had  been  recon- 
structed by  Smeaton,  and  was  then  reckoned  one  of  the 
best  on  the  Newcomen  plan.  The  old  man  who  tended 
it  lauded  the  engine  to  the  skies,  and  notwithstanding 
Boulton's  description  of  the  new  engines  at  work  in 
Staffordshire,  he  would  not  believe  that  any  engine  in 
existence  could  excel  his  own. 

In  the  course  of  the  summer  Watt  again  visited  Grlas- 

you  to  counterbalance  the  descent  of 
the  piston  and  pump  rods,  which  will 
be  a  vast  weight  ?  If  by  a  counter- 
weight you  gain  nothing.  But  if  you 
can  employ  the  power  that  arises  from 
the  descent  of  that  vast  weight  to 
strain  a  spring  that  will  repay  its 

will  contribute  to  overcome  the  vis 
inertice  of  the  column  of  water  to  be 
raised,  you  will  thereby  get  rid  of  that 
unmechanical  tax,  and  very  much 
improve  the  reciprocating  engine." — 
Boulton  to  Watt,  24th  February, 
1776.  Boulton  MSS. 

debts — if  by  it  you  can  compress  air        *  Boulton    to    Watt,    23rd    April, 
in  an  iron  cylinder  which  in  its  return  '  1776.     Boulton  MSS. 




(U'ow, — this  time  for  the  purpose  of  bringing  back  a 
wife.  The  lady  he  proposed  to  marry  was  Miss  Anne 
Macgregor,  daughter  of  a  respectable  dyer.  The  young 
lady's  consent  was  obtained,  as  well  as  her  father's,  to 
the  proposed  union ;  but  the  latter,  before  making  any 
settlement  on  his  daughter,  intimated  to  Watt  that  he 
desired  to  see  the  partnership  agreement  between  him 
and  Boulton.  Now,  although  the  terms  of  partnership 
had  been  generally  arranged,  they  had  not  yet  been  put 
into  legal  form,  and  Watt  asked  that  this  should  be  done 
for  the  cautious  old  gentleman's  satisfaction  without 
delay.1  About  his  love  affair  Watt  wrote, — 

"  Whether  a  man  of  the  world,  such  as  you,  look  upon  my  present 
love  as  the  folly  of  youth  or  the  dotage  of  age  [Watt  was  then  in  his 

1  The  arrangement  between  the 
partners  is  indicated  by  the  following 
passage  of  Watt's  letter  to  Boulton : — 
"  As  you  may  have  possibly  mislaid 
my  missive  to  you  concerning  the 
contract,  I  beg  just  to  mention  what 
I  remember  of  the  terms. 

"  1.  I  to  assign  to  you  two-thirds  of 
the  property  of  the  invention. 

"  2.  You  to  pay  all  expenses  of  the 
Act  or  others  incurred  before  June, 
1775  (the  date  of  the  Act),  and  also 
the  expense  of  future  experiments, 
which  money  is  to  be  sunk  without 
interest  by  you,  being  the  considera- 
tion you  pay  for  your  share. 

"  3.  You  to  advance  stock  in  trade 
bearing  interest,  but  having  no  claim 
on  me  for  any  part  of  that,  further 
than  my  intromissions ;  the  stock 
itself  to  be  your  security  and  pro- 

"  4.  I  to  draw  one-third  of  the  profits 
so  soon  as  any  arise  from  the  business, 
after  paying  the  workmen's  wages 
and  goods  furnished,  but  abstract 
from  the  stock  in  trade,  excepting  the 
interest  thereof,  which  is  to  be  de- 
ducted before  a  balance  is  struck. 

"  5.  I  to  make  drawings,  give  direc- 
tions, and  make  surveys,  the  com- 
pany paying  the  travelling  expenses 
to  either  of  us  when  upon  engine  busi- 

"  6.  You  to  keep  the  books  and 
balance  them  once  a  year. 

"  7.  A  book  to  be  kept  wherein  to  be 
marked  such  transactions  as  arc 
worthy  of  record,  which,  when  signed 
by  both,  to  have  the  force  of  the 

"8.  Neither  of  us  to  alienate  our 
share  without  consent  of  the  other, 
and  if  either  of  us  by  death  or  other- 
wise shall  be  incapacitated  from  acting 
for  ourselves,  the  other  of  us  to  be  the 
sole  manager  without  contradiction  or 
interference  of  heirs,  exeeutors,  as- 
signees, or  others;  but  the  books  to 
be  subject  to  their  inspection,  and 
the  acting  partner  of  us  to  be  allowed 
a  reasonable  commission  for  extra 

"  9.  The  contract  to  continue  in  force 
for  twenty-five  years,  from  the  1st  of 
June,  1775,  when  the  partnership 
commenced,  notwithstanding  the  con- 
tract being  of  later  date. 

"  10.  Our  heirs,  executors,  and  as- 
signees, bound  to  observance. 

**  11.  In  case  of  demise  of  both  par- 
ties, our  heirs,  &c.,  to  succeed  in  same 
manner,  and  if  they  all  please,  they 
may  burn  the  contract. 

"If  anything  be  very  disagreeable  in 
these  terms,  you  will  find  me  disposed 
to  do  everything  reasonable  for  your 
satisfaction." — Boulton  MSS. 


fortieth  year],  I  find  myself  in  no  humour  to  lay  it  aside,  or  to  look 
upon  it  in  either  of  these  lights,  but  consider  it  as  one  of  the  wisest 
of  my  actions,  and  should  look  upon  a  disappointment  in  it  as  one 
of  the  greatest  of  my  misfortunes.  ...  I  have  had  better  health 
since  I  left  you  than  has  been  my  lot  for  years,  and  my  spirits  have 
borne  me  through  my  vexations  wonderfully.  I  have  lost  all  dread 
of  any  future  connexion  with  Monsieur  la  Verole,  and,  if  I  carry 
my  point  in  this  matter,  I  hope  to  be  very  much  more  useful  to 
you  than  has  hitherto  been  in  my  power.  The  spur  will  be 
greater." ' 

While  in  Scotland  Watt  obtained  orders  for  several 
engines ;  amongst  others,  he  undertook  to  supply  one 
for  the  Torryburn  Colliery,  in  Fife,  on  the  terms  of 
receiving  one-third  of  the  savings  effected  by  it  com- 
pared with  the  engine  then  at  work,  with  such  further 
sum  as  might  be  judged  fair.  Another  was  ordered 
by  Sir  Archibald  Hope  for  his  colliery  near  Edin- 
burgh, on  similar  terms.  At  the  same  time  Watt  pro- 
ceeded with  the  collection  of  his  old  outstanding  debts, 
though  these  did  not  amount  to  much.  "I  believe," 
he  wrote  to  Boulton,  "  I  shall  have  no  occasion  to  draw 
on  you  for  any  money,  having  got  in  some  of  my  old 
scraps,  which  will  serve,  or  nearly  serve,  my  occasions 

The  deed  of  partnership  not  arriving,  Watt  wrote 
again,  pressing  Boulton  for  some  communication  from 
him  to  satisfy  the  old  gentleman  as  to  his  situation. 

"  Don't  let  me  be  detected  in  a  falsehood,"  said  he,  "  or  accused  of 
imprudence.  The  thing  which  sticks  most  in  his  [Mr.  Macgregor's] 
stomach  is,  that  somehow  or  other,  in  case  of  the  failure  of  success, 
I  may  be  brought  into  a  load  of  debt  which  may  totally  ruin  me. 
I  hope  you  will  excuse  his  caution  in  this  matter,  as  I  do,  when 
you  consider  that  he  is  disposing  of  a  favourite  child,  and  conse- 
quently must  expect  all  the  security  possible  for  her  wellbeing. 
I  must  also  do  him  the  justice  to  say  that  he  has  behaved  to  me  in 
a  very  open  and  friendly  manner ;  and,  when  he  found  that  his 
daughter's  aifections  were  engaged  beyond  recall,  gave  his  consent 
with  a  good  grace.  ...  I  have  nothing  to  write  you  in  the  way  of 

Watt  to  Boulton,  3rd  July,  1776.     Boulton  MSS. 


news.  I  am  bandied  about  like  a  football,  and  perfectly  impatient 
to  leave  this  country,  but  do  not  care  to  come  away  without  my 
errand.  I  long  vastly  to  hear  from  you,  how  you  all  are,  and  how 
matters  go  on.  I  hope  Jemmy  is  minding  his  school  and  is  well : 
you  need  not  tell  him  nor  anybody  else  that  I  am  going  to  bring 
him  home  a  mamma." l 

Boulton' s  reply  was  perfectly  satisfactory.  He  con- 
firmed the  heads  of  the  agreement,  as  sketched  out  by 
Watt  himself,  adopting  his  own  words.  He  warmly 
congratulated  him  on  his  approaching  marriage,  being 
convinced  that  it  was  the  goddess  of  wisdom  that  had 
led  him  to  the  altar  of  love.  But  he  thought  Watt 
might  be  over  delicate  as  to  money  matters. 

"  You  certainly,"  said  he,  "  have  a  right  to  expect  from  the  lady's 
father  a  child's  share,  both  present  and  reversionary ;  and  you 
certainly  have  a  right  to  expect  some  ready  money,  as  a  small  sum 
may  be  of  more  importance  to  you  in  the  meridian  of  life  than  a 
large  one  at  the  close  of  it.  I  have  always  heard  you  speak  of  the 
old  gentleman  as  a  man  of  exceeding  good  sound  sense,  and  therefore 
I  should  think  you  will  have  the  less  difficulty  in  settling  matters 
with  him.  No  doubt  he  will  expect  some  settlement  to  be  made 
upon  his  daughter,  and  all  that  I  advise  is,  that  you  do  not  under- 
value (according  to  your  custom)  your  own  abilities  or  your 
property.  It  may  be  difficult  to  say  what  is  the  value  of  your 
property  in  partnership  with  me.  However,  I  will  give  it  a  name, 
and  I  do  say  that  I  would  willingly  give  you  two  or  perhaps  three 
thousand  pounds  for  the  assignment  of  your  third  part  of  the  Act  of 
Parliament ;  but  I  should  be  sorry  to  make  you  so  bad  a  bargain, 
or  to  make  any  bargain  at  all  that  tended  to  deprive  me  of  your 
friendship,  acquaintance,  and  assistance, — hoping,  as  I  do,  that  we 
shall  harmoniously  live  to  wear  out  the  twenty-five  years  together, 
which  I  had  rather  do  than  gain  a  Nabob's  fortune  by  being  the 
sole  proprietor.  ...  I  wish  I  had  more  time  to  tell  you  all  the 
circumstances  that  have  occurred  in  the  engine  trade;  but  that 
shall  be  the  subject  of  my  next.  All  is  well,  and  when  you  return 
you'll  be  quite  charmed  at  the  simplicity  and  quietness  of  the  Soho 
engine." 2 

With  his  usual  want  of  confidence  in  himself,  Watt 

1  Watt  to  Boulton,  8th  July,  1776.     Boulton  MSS. 

2  Boulton  to  Watt,  15th  July,  1776.     Boulton  MSS. 


urged  Boulton  to  come  down  to  Glasgow  and  assist  him 
in  concluding  matters  with  the  old  gentleman. 

"  I  am  afraid,"  he  wrote,  "  that  I  shall  otherwise  make  a  very 
bad  bargain  in  money  matters,  which  wise  men  like  you  esteem  the 
most  essential  part,  and  I  myself,  although  I  be  an  enamoured 
swain,  do  not  altogether  despise.  You  may  perhaps  think  it  odd 
that  in  the  midst  of  my  friends  here  I  should  call  for  your  help ; 
but  the  fact  is,  that  from  several  reasons  I  do  not  choose  to  place 
that  confidence  in  any  of  my  friends  here  that  would  be  necessary 
in  such  a  case,  and  I  do  not  know  any  of  them  that  have  more  to 
say  with  the  gentleman  in  question  than  I  have  myself.  Besides, 
you  are  the  only  person  who  can  give  him  satisfactory  information 
concerning  my  situation." 

But  Boulton  was  too  busy  at  the  time  to  go  down  to 
Glasgow  to  the  help  of  his  partner.  He  was  full  of 
work,  full  of  orders,  full  of  Soho.  He  replied, — 

"  Although  I  have  added  to  the  list  of  my  bad  habits  by  joking 
upon  matrimony,  yet  my  disposition  and  my  judgment  would  lead 
me  to  marry  again  were  I  in  your  case.  I  know  you  will  be 
happier  as  a  married  man  than  as  a  single  one,  and  therefore  it  is 
wisdom  in  you  to  wed ;  and  if  that  could  not  be  done  without  my 
coming  to  Scotland,  I  certainly  would  come  if  it  were  as  far  again ; 
but  I  am  so  beset  with  difficulties,  that  nothing  less  than  the 
absolute  loss  of  your  life,  or  wife — which  is  virtually  the  same 
thing — could  bring  me." 

He  further  explained  that  a  good  deal  of  extra  work 
had  fallen  upon  him,  through  the  absence  of  some  of  his 
most  important  assistants.  Mr.  Matthews,  his  London 
financial  agent,  like  Watt,  was  about  to  be  married,  and 
would  be  absent  abroad  for  a  tour  on  a  wedding  trip,  in 
which  he  was  to  be  accompanied  by  Fothergill,  Boulton's 
partner  in  the  toy  and  button  trade.  Mr.  Scale,  the 
manager,  was  also  absent,  added  to  which  the  button 
orders  were  in  arrear  some  16,000  gross;  so  that,  said 
Boulton,  "  I  have  more  real  difficulties  to  grapple  with 
than  I  hope  ever  to  have  in  any  other  year  in  my  life." 

There  were  also  constant  visitors  arriving  at  Soho: 
among  others  the  Duke  of  Buccleuch,  who  had  called  to 
see  the  ^  works  and  inquire  after  Mr.  Watt;  and  Mr. 


Moor,  of  the  Society  of  Engineers  in  the  Adelphi,  who 
had  come  to  see  with  his  own  eyes  whether  the  reports 
in  circulation  against  the  new  engine  were  true  or  false. 
The  perfecting  of  the  details  of  the  engine  also  required 
constant  attention. 

"  Our  copper  bottom,"  said  Boulton,  "  hath  plagued  us  very  much 
by  steam  leaks,  and  therefore  I  have  had  one  cast  (with  its 
conducting  pipe)  all  in  one  piece ;  since  which  the  engine  doth  not 
take  more  than  10  feet  of  steam,  and  I  hope  to  reduce  that  quantity, 
as  we  have  just  received  the  new  piston,  which  shall  be  put  in  and 
at  work  to-morrow.  Our  Soho  engine  never  was  in  such  good 
order  as  at  present.  Bloomfield  and  Willey  [engines]  are  both 
well,  and  I  doubt  not  but  Bow  engine  will  be  better  than 
any  of  'em." 

Boulton  was  almost  as  full  of  speculation  as  Watt  him- 
self as  to  the  means  of  improving  the  engine.  "  I  did  not 
sleep  last  night,"  he  wrote,  "  my  mind  being  absorbed  by 
steam."  One  of  his  speculations  was  as  to  the  means  of 
increasing  the  heating  surface,  and  with  that  object  he 
proposed  to  apply  the  fire  "  in  copper  spheres  within  the 
water."  His  mind  was  also  running  on  economising 
power  by  working  steam  expansively,  "  being  clear  that 
the  principle  is  sound." 

Later,  he  wrote  Watt  that  he  had  an  application  from 
a  distiller  at  Bristol  for  an  engine  to  raise  15,000  gallons 
of  ale  per  hour  15  feet  high ;  another  for  a  coal  mine  in 
Wales,  and  two  others  for  London  distilleries.  To  add  to 
his  anxieties,  one  Humphry  Gainsborough,  a  dissenting 
minister  at  Henley-oii-Thames,  had  instituted  proceed- 
ings against  Watt  for  an  alleged  piracy  of  his  invention  ! 
On  this  Boulton  wrote  to  his  partner, — "  I  have  just 
received  a  summons  to  attend  the  Solicitor-General  next 
week  in  opposition  to  Gainsborough,  otherwise  the 
solicitor  will  make  his  report.  This  is  a  disagreeable 
circumstance,  particularly  at  this  season,  when  you  are 
absent.  Joseph  [Harrison]  is  in  London,  and  idleness 
is  in  our  engine  -  shop."  There  was  therefore  every 
reason  why  Watt  should  make  haste  to  get  married,  and 




return  to  Soho  as  speedily  as  possible.  On  the  28th  July, 
1770,  Watt  wrote  to  apologise  for  his  long  absence,  and 
to  say  that  the  event  was  to  come  off  on  the  following 
Monday,  after  which  he  would  set  out  immediately  for 
Liverpool,  where  he  proposed  to  meet  Boulton,  unless 
countermanded.  He  also  intimated  that  he  had  got 
another  order  for  an  engine  at  Leadhills.1  Arrived  at 
Liverpool,  a  letter  from  Boulton  met  him,  saying  he 
had  been  under  the  necessity  of  proceeding  to  London. 

"  Gainsborough,"  said  he,  "  hath  appointed  to  meet  me  at  Holt's, 
his  attorney,  on  Monday,  when  I  shall  say  little  besides  learning 
his  principles  and  invention.  If  we  had  a  hundred  wheels  [wheel- 
engines]  ready  made,  and  a  hundred  small  engines,  like  Bow  engine, 
and  twenty  large  ones  executed,  we  could  readily  dispose  of  them. 
Therefore  let  us  make  hay  while  the  sun  shines,  and  gather  our 
barns  full  before  the  dark  cloud  of  age  lowers  upon  us,  and  before 
any  more  Tubal  Cains,  Watts,  Dr.  Faustuses,  or  Gainsboroughs, 
arise  with  serpents  like  Moses's  to  devour  all  others.  ...  As  to 
your  absence,  say  nothing  about  it.  I  will  forgive  it  this  time, 
provided  you  promise  me  never  to  marry  again." 2 

Watt  hastened  back  to  Birmingham,  and  after  settling 
his  wife  in  her  new  home,  proceeded  with  the  execu- 
tion of  the  orders  for  engines  which  had  come  in 
during  his  two  months'  absence.  Mr.  Wilby  was  im- 
patient for  the  delivery  of  the  Bow  engine,  and  as 
soon  as  it  was  ready,  which  was  early  in  September, 
the  materials  were  forwarded  to  London  with  Joseph 
Harrison,  to  be  fitted  and  set  to  work.  Besides  careful 
verbal  instructions,  Watt  supplied  Joseph  with  full 
particulars  in  writing  of  the  measures  he  was  to  adopt 

1  During  his  Scotch  visit,  Watt 
spent  much  of  his  time  in  arranging 
his  father's  affairs,  which  had  got  into 
confusion.  He  was  now  seventy-five 
years  old,  and  grown  very  infirm. 
"  He  is  perfectly  incapable,"  wrote  his 
son,  "  of  giving  himself  the  least  help, 
and  the  seeing  him  in  such  a  situation 
has  much  hurt  my  spirits." — Watt  to 
Boulton,  28th  July,  1766.  Boulton 

2  Boulton  to  Watt  (without  date), 
1776.  Boulton  MSS.  In  this  letter, 
Boulton  throws  out  a  suggestion  for 
Watt's  consideration  —  "When,"  he 
says,  "  we  have  got  our  two-foot  pumps 
up,  I  think  it  would  be  right  to  try 
our  Soho  engine  with  a  steam  strong 
enough  to  work  the  pumps  with  the 
axis  in  the  centre  of  the  beam,  which 
will  be  almost  19  Ib.  upon  the  inch." 


in  putting  the  engine  together.  Not  a  point  in  detail 
was  neglected,  and  if  any  difficulty  arose,  Joseph  was 
directed  at  once  to  communicate  with  him  by  letter. 
When  the  engine  was  set  to  work,  it  was  found  that  the 
steam  could  not  be  kept  up,  on  which  Watt  suggested 
that  as  it  had  been  calculated  to  make  only  ten  strokes 
per  minute — that  being  enough  to  raise  the  quantity  of 
water  desired — the  reason  of  the  defect  must  be  that,  as 
it  was  going  at  fourteen  or  fifteen  strokes  the  minute,  it 
must  be  going  too  fast.  He  also  pointed  out  that  pro- 
bably the  piston  was  not  quite  good,  and  perhaps  there 
was  some  steam-leak  into  the  inner  cylinder,  or  by  the 
regulators  into  the  condenser ;  or  it  was  possible  that  the 
injection  might  spout  too  far  up  the  horizontal  steam- 
pipe  and  throw  water  into  the  inner  nozzle.  All  these 
points  Joseph  must  carefully  look  to.  On  further  trials 
the  engine  improved ;  still  its  performances  did  not  come 
up  to  Watt's  expectations,  and  there  were  consequently 
more  directions  from  him  as  to  the  packing  of  the  pis- 
tons and  measures  for  the  prevention  of  leaks.  But  to 
see  that  his  suggestions  were  properly  carried  out,  Watt 
himself  went  up  to  town  in  November,  and  had  the 
machine  put  in  complete  working  trim.  His  partner, 
however,  could  not  spare  him  long,  as  other  orders  were 
coming  in.  "  We  have  a  positive1  order,"  wrote  Boulton, 
"  for  an  engine  for  Tingtang  mine,  and,  from  what  I 
heard  this  day  from  Mr.  Glover,  we  may  soon  expect 
other  orders  from  Cornwall.  Our  plot  begins  to  thicken 
apace,  and  if  Mr.  Wilkinson  don't  bustle  a  little,  as  well 
as  ourselves,  we  shall  not  gather  our  harvest  before  sun- 
set." ...  "I  hope  to  hear,"  he  added,  "  that  Joseph 
hath  made  a  finish,  for  he  is  much  wanted  here.  .  .  . 
I  perceive  we  shall  be  hard  pushed  in  engine-work  ;  but 
I  have  no  fears  of  being  distanced  when  once  the  exact 
course  or  best  track  is  determined  on."  *  Joseph  Harrison. 

1  Boulton  to  Watt,  3rd  November,  I  informs   Watt   that   Perrins,  another 
1776.      In   the   same   letter   Boulton     fireman,  had  returned  from  Bedwortb, 


got  quite  knocked  up  and  ill  through  his  anxiety  about 
the  Bow  engine,  on  which  Boultoii  wrote  Watt  to  send 
at  once  for  Dr.  Fordyce  to  attend  him,  "  let  the  expense 
be  what  it  will,  until  you  think  him  safe  landed." 

A  letter  reached  Soho  from  the  Shad  well  Waterworks 
Company  relative  to  a  pumpirig-engine,  and  Boulton 
asked  Watt,  while  in  town,  to  wait  upon  them  on  the 
subject ;  but  he  cautioned  Watt  that  he  "  never  knew  a 
Committee  but,  in  its  corporate  capacity,  was  both  rogue 
and  fool,  and  that  the  Shadwell  Committee  were  rich 
rogues."  Watt,  by  his  own  account,  treated  them  very 
cavalierly.  "  Yesterday,"  said  he,  "  I  went  again  to 
Shadwell  to  meet  the  deputies  of  the  Committee,  and 
to  examine  their  engines  when  going.  We  came  to  no 
terms  further  than  what  we  wrote  them  before,  which  I 
confirmed,  and  offered  moreover  to  keep  the  engine  in 
order  for  one  year.  They  modestly  insisted  that  we 
should  do  so  for  .the  whole  twenty-five  years,  which  I 
firmly  refused.  They  seemed  to  doubt  the  reality  of  the 
performances  of  the  Bow  engine  ;  so  I  told  them  we  did 
not  solicit  their  orders  and  would  wait  patiently  until 
they  were  convinced, — moreover,  that  while  they  had 
any  doubts  remaining,  we  would  not  undertake  their 
business  on  any  terms.  I  should  not  have  been  so  sharp 
with  them  had  they  not  begun  with  bullying  me,  selon 
la  mode  de  Londres.  But  the  course  I  took  was  not 
without  its  effect,  for  in  proportion  as  they  found  I 
despised  their  job,  they  grew  more  civil.  After  parting 
with  these  heroes  I  went  down  to  Stratford,  where  I 
found  that  the  engine  had  gone  very  well.  I  caused  it 

and  had  not  a  stroke  to  do,  the  fittings 
for  the  second  engine  not  having 
arrived.  The  first  engine  was  working 
twenty-four  hours  a  day,  but  the  pit 
was  so  full  of  water  that  the  owners 
feared  they  would  before  long  be 
drowned  out;  and  if  the  work  was 
stopped,  the  loss  would  be  far  greater 
than  the  whole  value  of  the  engine. 

But  the  sales  of  coal,  though  large,  were 
but  "  a  small  consideration  in  com- 
parison with  the  starving  to  death  of 
the  poor  ribbon-weavers  of  Coventry 
and  a  great  part  of  Oxfordshire.  .  .  . 
Coals  are  9cZ.  and  lOd.  per  cwt.,  and 
'tis  said  they  will  be  a  shilling  at 
Birmingham  on  Monday." 



to  be  kept  going  all  the  afternoon,  and  this  morning  I 
new-heat  the  piston  and  kept  it  going  till  dinner  time 
at  about  fifteen  strokes  per  minute,  with  a  steam  of  one 
inch  or  at  most  two  inches  strong,  and  the  longer  it  went 
the  better  it  grew.  ...  I  propose  that  Joseph  should 
not  leave  it  for  a  few  days,  until  both  his  health  and 
that  of  the  engine  be  confirmed.  A  relapse  of  the 
engine  would  ruin  our  reputation  here,  and  indeed 

The  Bow  engine  had,  however,  a  serious  relapse  in 
the  following  spring,  and  it  happened  in  this  way : — Mr. 
Smeaton,  the  engineer,  having  heard  of  its  success,  which 
he  doubted,  requested  Hadley,  Boulton's  agent,  to  go 
down  with  him  to  Stratford-le-Bow  to  witness  its  per- 
formances. He  carefully  examined  the  engine,  and 
watched  it  while  at  work,  and  the  conclusion  he  arrived 
at  was,  that  it  was  a  pretty  engine,  but  much  too  com- 
plex for  practical  uses.  On  leaving  the  place  Smeaton 
gave  the  engineman  some  money  to  drink,  and  he  drank 
so  much  that  next  day  he  let  the  engine  run  quite  wild, 
and  it  was  thrown  completely  out  of  order.  Mr.  Wilby, 
the  manager,  was  very  wroth  at  the  circumstance.  He 
discharged  the  engineman  and  called  upon  Hadley  to 
replace  the  valves,  which  had  been  broken,  and  make 
good  the  other  damage  that  had  been  done  to  the  engine. 
When  the  repairs  were  made,  everything  went  satis- 
factorily as  before. 

Watt  had  many  annoyances  of  this  sort  to  encounter, 
and  one  of  his  greatest  difficulties  was  the  incapacity  and 
unsteadiness  of  his  workmen.  Although  the  original 
Soho  men  were  among  the  best  of  their  kind,  the  in- 
creasing business  of  the  firm  necessarily  led  to  the  intro- 
duction of  a  large  number  of  new  hands,  who  represented 
merely  the  average  workmen  of  the  day.  They  were 

Watt  to  Bonlton,  3rd  December,  1776.     Bonlton  MSS. 


for  the  most  part  poor  mechanics,  very  inexpert  at 
working  in  metal,  and  greatly  given  to  drink.1 

In  organising  the  works  at  Soho,  Boulton  and 
Watt  found  it  necessary  to  carry  division  of  labour  to 
the  farthest  practicable  point.  There  were  no  slide- 
lathes,  planing-machines,  or  boring-tools,  such  as  now 
render  mechanical  accuracy  of  construction  almost  a 
matter  of  certainty.  Everything  depended  upon  the 
individual  mechanic's  accuracy  of  hand  and  eye ;  and 
yet  mechanics  generally  were  then  much  less  skilled 
than  they  are  now.  The  way  in  which  Boulton  and 
Watt  contrived  partially  to  get  over  the  difficulty  was, 
to  confine  their  workmen  to  special  classes  of  work,  and 
make  them  as  expert  in  them  as  possible.  By  continued 
practice  in  handling  the  same  tools  and  fabricating  the 
same  articles,  they  thus  acquired  great  individual  pro- 
ficiency. "  Without  our  tools  and  our  workmen,"  said 
Watt,  "  very  little  could  be  done." 

But  when  the  men  got  well  trained,  the  difficulty 
was  to  keep  them.  Foreign  tempters  were  constantly 
trying  to  pick  up  Boulton  and  Watt's  men,  and  induce 
them  by  offers  of  larger  wages  to  take  service  abroad. 
The  two  fitters  sent  up  to  London  to  erect  the  Bow  engine 
were  strongly  pressed  to  go  out  to  Russia.2  There  were 

ing."     Car  less  and  Webb  were  imme- 
diately ordered  back  to  Soho,  and  the 

1  Fire-engines  at  work  were  objects 
of  curiosity  in  those  days,  and  had 
many  visitors.  The  engineman  at  the 
York  Buildings  reminded  those  who 
went  to  see  his  engine  that  something 
was  expected,  placing  over  the  en- 

firm  obtained  warrants  for  the  appre- 
hension of  the  men  as  well  as  of  the 
person  who  had  bribed  them,  if  they 
attempted  to  abscond  "  even  though,'' 

trance  to  the  engine  room  the  follow-  |  said  Watt  to  Boulton,  "  Carless  be  a 
ing  distich  : —  drunken    and    comparatively   useless 

"  Whoever  wants  to  see  the  engine  here, 

fellow."      Later  he  wrote,  "  I  think 

»   UUCVCi       YVC1I1LO     LV    OCC     lilC    ClltliliC     Ud^y  *  •  '1C     TTT      1151 

Must  give  the  engine-man  a  drop  of  beer."  I  th3re  1S  ??  risk  of  Webb  «  leaving  us 

soon,  and  he  oners  to  re-engage.  Carless 
has  been  working  very  diligently  this 
week,  and  is  well  on  with  "his  nozzle 
patterns.  I  mentioned  to  William 

"  Mr.  White  told  me  this  morning 
as  a  great  secret,"  wrote  Boulton's 
London  agent,  "  that  he  has  reason  to 
believe  that  Carless  and  Webb  were 
going  beyond  sea,  for  Carless  had  told 
him  he  had  10007.  offered  for  six 
years,  and  he  overheard  Webb  say 
that  he  was  ready  at  an  hour's  warn- 

the  story  of  Sir  John  Fielding's  war- 
rant, to  show  him  that  we  are  deter- 
mined to  act  with  spirit  in  case  of 
interlopers." — Watt  to  Boulton,  May  3, 


Q    2 


also  French  agents  in  England  at  the  same  time,  who 
tried  to  induce  certain  of  Boulton  and  Watt's  men  to  go 
over  to  Paris  and  communicate  the  secret  of  making  the 
new  engines  to  M.  Perrier,  who  had  undertaken  to  pump 
water  from  the  Seine  for  the  supply  of  Paris.  The 
German  States  also  sent  over  emissaries  with  a  like  object, 
Baron  Stein  having  been  specially  commissioned  by  his 
Government  to  master  the  secret  of  Watt's  engine — to 
obtain  working  plans  of  it  and  bring  away  workmen 
capable  of  making  it, — the  first  step  taken  being  to 
obtain  access  to  the  engine-rooms  by  bribing  the  work- 

Besides  the  difficulties  Boulton  and  Watt  had  to  en- 
counter in  training  and  disciplining  their  own  workmen, 
they  had  also  to  deal  with  the  want  of  skill  on  the  part 
of  those  to  whom  the  working  of  their  engines  was 
intrusted  after  they  had  been  delivered  and  fixed  com- 
plete. They  occasionally  supplied  trustworthy  men  of 
their  own ;  but  they  could  not  educate  mechanics  fast 
enough,  and  needed  all  the  best  men  for  their  own  work. 
They  were  therefore  compelled  to  rely  on  the  average 
mechanics  of  the  day,  the  greater  part  of  whom  were 
comparatively  unskilled  and  knew  nothing  of  the  steam- 
engine.  Hence  such  mishaps  as  those  which  befell  the 
Bow  engine,  through  the  engineman  getting  drunk  and 
reckless,  as  above  described.  To  provide  for  this  con- 
tingency Watt  endeavoured  to  simplify  the  engine  as 
much  as  possible,  so  as  to  bring  its  working  and  repair 
within  the  capacity  of  the  average  workman. 

At  a  very  early  period,  while  experimenting  at  Kinneil, 
he  had  formed  the  idea  of  working  steam  expansively, 
and  altered  his  model  from  time  to  time  with  that -object. 
Boulton  had  taken  up  and  continued  the  experiments  at 
Soho,  believing  the  principle  to  be  sound  and  that  great 
economy  would  attend  its  adoption.  The  early  engines 
were  accordingly  made  so  that  the  steam  might  be  cut 
off  before  the  piston  had  made  its  full  stroke,  and  expand 


within  the  cylinder,  the  heat  outside  it  being  maintained 
by  the  expedient  of  the  steam-case.  But  it  was  shortly 
found  that  this  method  of  working  was  beyond  the 
capacity  of  the  average  engineman  of  that  day,  and  it 
was  consequently  given  up  for  a  time. 

"  We  used  to  send  out,"  said  Watt  to  Eobert  Hart,  "  a  cylinder  of 
double  the  size  wanted,  and  cut  off  the  steam  at  half  stroke.  This 
was  a  great  saving  of  steam  so  long  as  the  valves  remained  as  at 
first ;  but  when  our  men  left  her  to  the  charge  of  the  person  who 
was  to  keep  her,  he  began  to  make  or  try  to  make  improvements, 
often  by  giving  more  steam.  The  engine  did  more  work  while  the 
steam  lasted,  but  the  boiler  could  not  keep  up  the  demand.  Then 
complaints  came  of  want  of  steam,  and  we  had  to  send  a  man  down 
to  see  what  was  wrong.  This  was  so  expensive  that  we  resolved  to 
give  up  the  expansion  of  the  steam  until  we  could  get  men  that 
could  work  it,  as  a  few  tons  of  coal  per  year  was  less  expensive  than 
having  the  work  stopped.  In  some  of  the  mines  a  few  hours' 
stoppage  was  a  serious  matter,  as  it  would  cost  the  proprietor  as 
much  as  70Z.  per  hour." l 

The  principle  was  not,  however,  abandoned.  It  was 
of  great  value  and  importance  in  an  economical  point  of 
view,  and  was  again  taken  up  by  Watt  and  embodied  in 
a  more  complete  form  in  a  subsequent  invention.  Since 
his  time,  indeed,  expansive  working  has  been  carried  to 
a  much  farther  extent  than  he  probably  ever  dreamt  of? 
and  has  more  than  realised  the  beneficial  results  which 
his  sagacious  insight  so  early  anticipated. 

Robert  Hart's  *  Reminiscences  of  James  Watt,'  cited  above. 




THE  Cornish  miners  continued  baffled  by  their  attempts 
to  get  rid  of  the  water  which  hindered  the  working  of 
their  mines.  The  Newcomen  engines  had  been  taxed  to 
the  utmost,  but  were  unable  to  send  them  deeper  into 
the  ground,  and  they  were  accordingly  ready  to  welcome 
any  invention  that  promised  to  relieve  them  of  their 
difficulty.  Among  the  various  new  contrivances  for 
pumping  water,  that  of  Watt  seemed  to  offer  the  greatest 
advantages  ;  and  if  what  was  alleged  of  it  proved  true — 
that  it  was  of  greater  power  than  the  Newcomen  engine, 
while  its  consumption  of  fuel  was  much  less, — then  it 
could  not  fail  to  prove  of  the  greatest  advantage  to 
Cornish  industry. 

Long  before  Watt's  arrival  in  Birmingham,  the  Cornish- 
men  had  been  in  correspondence  with  Boulton,  making 
inquiries  about  the  new  Scotch  invention,  of  which  they 
had  heard ;  and  Dr.  Small,  in  his  letters  to  Watt,  re- 
peatedly urged  him  to  perfect  his  engine,  with  a  view 
to  its  being  employed  in  the  drainage  of  the  Cornish 
mines.  Now  that  the  engine  was  at  work  in  several 
places,  Boulton  invited  his  correspondents  in  Cornwall 
to  inquire  as  to  its  performances,  at  Soho,  or  Bedworth, 
or  Bow,  or  any  other  place  where  it  had  been  erected. 
The  result  of  the  inquiry  and  inspection  was  satisfactory, 
and  several  orders  for  engines  for  Cornwall  were  received 
at  Soho  by  the  end  of  1776.  The  two  first  that  were 
ready  for  erection  were  those  ordered  for  Wheal  Busy, 
near  Chace water,  and  for  Tingtang,  near  Redruth.  The 




materials  for  the  former  were  shipped  by  the  middle  of 
1777  ;  and,  as  much  would  necessarily  depend  upon  the 
successful  working  of  the  first  engines  put  up  in  Corn- 
wall, Watt  himself  went  to  superintend  their  erection  in 

Watt  reached  his  destination  after  a  long  and  tedious 
journey  over  bad  roads.  He  rode  by  stage  as  far  as 
Exeter,  and  posted  the  rest  of  the  way.  At  Chace water 
he  found  himself  in  the  midst  of  perhaps  the  richest 
mining  district  in  the  world.  From  thence  to  Caniborne, 
which  lies  to  the  west,  and  Gwennap  to  the  south,  is  a 


constant  succession  of  mines.  The  earth  has  been  bur- 
rowed in  all  directions  for  many  miles  in  search  of  ore, 
principally  copper — the  surface  presenting  an  unnatu- 
rally blasted  and  scarified  appearance  by  reason  of  the 
"  deads  "  or  refuse  run  out  in  heaps  from  the  mine-heads. 
Engine-houses  and  chimneys  are  the  most  prominent 
features  in  the  landscape,  and  dot  the  horizon  as  far  as 
the  eye  can  reach. 

When    Watt   arrived   at   Chacewater  he    found    the 


materials  for  the  Wheal  Busy  engine  had  come  to  hand, 
and  that  some  progress  had  been  made  with  its  erection. 
The  materials  for  the  Tingtang  engine,  however,  had 
not  yet  been  received  from  Soho,  and  the  owners  of  the 
mine  were  becoming  very  impatient  for  it.  Watt  wrote 
to  his  partner  urging  despatch,  otherwise  the  engine 
might  be  thrown  on  their  hands,  especially  if  the  Chace- 
water  engine,  now  nearly  ready  for  work,  did  not  give 
satisfaction.  From  Watt's  account,  it  would  appear  that 
the  Cornish  mines  were  in  a  very  bad  way.  "  The 
Tingtang  people,"  he  said,  "  are  now  fairly  put  out  by 
water,  and  the  works  are  quite  at  a  stand."  The  other 
mines  in  the  neighbourhood  were  in  no  better  plight. 
The  pumping-engines  could  not  keep  down  the  water. 
"  Poldice  has  grown  worse  than  Wheal  Yirgin  was : 
they  have  sunk  40  01.  a  month  for  some  months  past,  and 
TOO/,  the  last  month ;  they  will  probably  soon  give  up. 
North  Downs  seems  to  be  our  next  card."  *  The  owners 
of  the  Wheal  Virgin  mine,  though  drowned  out,  like 
many  others,  could  not  bring  their  minds  to  try  Watt's 
engine.  They  had  no  faith  in  it,  and  stuck  by  the  old 
atmospheric  of  Newcomen.  They  accordingly  erected 
an  additional  engine  of  this  kind  to  enable  them  to  go 
about  eight  fathoms  deeper,  "  and  they  have  bought," 
wrote  Watt,  "  an  old  boiler  of  monstrous  size  at  the 
Briggin,  which  they  have  offered  50/.  to  get  carried  to 
its  place." 

At  Chacewater  Watt  first  met  Jonathan  Hornblower, 
son  of  the  Joseph  Hornblower  who  had  come  into  Corn- 
wall from  Staffordshire,  some  fifty  years  before,  to  erect 
one  of  the  early  Newcomen  engines.  The  son  had  followed 
in  his  father's  steps,  and  become  celebrated  in  the  Chace- 
water district  as  an  engineer.  It  was  natural  that  he 
should  regard  with  jealousy  the  patentees  of  the  new 
engine ;  for  if  it  proved  a  success,  his  vocation  as  a 

1  Watt  to  Boulton,  4th  August,  1777. 




maker  of  atmospheric  engines  would  be  at  an  end. 
Watt  thus  referred  to  him  in  a  letter  to  Boultori :  "  Horn- 
blower  seems  a  very  pleasant  sort  of  old  Presbyterian  : 
he  carries  himself  very  fair,  though  I  hear  that  he  is  an 
unbelieving  Thomas."  His  unbelief  strongly  showed 
itself  on  the  starting  of  the  Wheal  Busy  engine  shortly 
after,  when  he  exclaimed,  "  Pshaw !  it's  but  a  bauble :  I 
wouldn't  give  twopence  halfpenny  for  her."  There  were 
others  beside  Hornblower  who  disliked  and  resented  what 
they  regarded  as  the  intrusion  of  Boulton  and  Watt  in 
their  district,  and  indeed  never  became  wholly  reconciled 
to  the  new  engine,  though  they  were  compelled  to  admit 
the  inefficiency  of  the  old  one.  Among  these  was  old 
Bonze,  the  engineer,  a  very  clever  mechanic,  who  posi- 
tively refused  to  undertake  the  erection  of  the  proposed 
new  engine  at  Wheal  Union  if  Boulton  and  Watt  were 
to  be  in  any  way  concerned  with  it.  But  the  mine- 
owners  had  to  study  their  own  interest  rather  than  the 
humour  of  their  former  engineers,  and  Watt  secured 
the  order  for  the  Wheal  Union  engine.  Several  other 
orders  were  promised,  conditional  on  the  performances 
of  the  Wheal  Busy  engine  proving  satisfactory.  "  Ale 
and  Cakes,"  l  wrote  Watt,  "  must  wait  the  result  of  Chace- 
water  :  several  new  engines  will  be  erected  next  year, 
for  almost  all  the  old  mines  are  exhausted,  or  have  got 
to  the  full  power  of  the  present  engines,  which  are 
clumsy  and  nasty,  the  houses  cracked,  and  everything 
dropping  with  water  from  their  cisterns." 2 

Watt  liked  the  people  as  little  as  he  did  their  engines. 
He  thought  them  ungenerous,  jealous,  and  treacherous. 
"  Certainly,"  said  he,  "  they  have  the  most  ungracious 
manners  of  any  people  I  have  ever  yet  been  amongst." 
At  the  first  monthly  meeting  of  the  Wheal  Virgin  ad- 

1  A  mine  so-called.  Many  of  the 
Cornish  mines  have  very  odd  names. 
"  Cook's  Kitchen,"  near  Camborae,  is 
one  of  the  oldest  and  richest.  Another 
is  called  "  Cupboard."  There  arc  also 

Wheal  Fannys  and  Wheal  Abrahams ; 
and  Wheal  Fortunes  and  Wheal 
Virgins  in  great  numbers. 

2  Watt  to   Boulton,  14th  August, 




venturers,  which  he  attended,  he  found  a  few  gentlemen, 
but  "  the  bulk  of  them  would  not  be  disgraced  by  being 
classed  with  Wednesbury  colliers."  What  annoyed  him 
most  was,  that  the  miners  invented  and  propagated  all 
sorts  of  rumours  to  his  prejudice.  "  We  have  been  ac- 
cused," said  he,  "of  working  without  leather  upon  our 
buckets,  and  making  holes  in  the  clacks  in  order  to 
deceive  strangers.  ...  I  choose  to  keep  out  of  their 
company,  as  every  word  spoken  by  me  would  be  bandied 
about  and  misrepresented.  I  have  already  been  accused 
of  making  several  speeches  at  Wheal  Yirgin,  where,  to 
the  best  of  my  memory,  I  have  only  talked  about  eating, 
drinking,  and  the  weather.  The  greater  part  of  the  ad- 
venturers at  Wheal  Yirgin  are  a  mean  dirty  pack,  preying 
upon  one  another,  and  striving  who  shall  impose  most 
upon  the  mine."  l  Watt  was  of  too  sensitive  and  shrink- 
ing a  nature  to  feel  himself  at  home  amongst  such  people. 
Besides,  he  was  disposed  to  be  peevish  and  irritable,  easily 
cast  down,  and  ready  to  anticipate  the  worst.  It  had 
been  the  same  with  him  when  employed  amongst  the 
rough  labourers  on  the  Monkland  Canal,  where  he  had 
declared  himself  as  ready  to  face  a  loaded  cannon  as  to 
encounter  the  altercations  of  bargain-making.  But  Watt 
must  needs  reconcile  himself  to  his  post  as  he  best  could  ; 
for  none  but  himself  could  see  to  the  proper  erection  of 
the  Wheal  Busy  engine  and  get  it  £et  to  work  with  any 
chance  of  success.  Meanwhile,  the  native  engineers  were 
stimulated  by  his  presence,  and  by  the  reputed  power  of 
the  new  engine,  to  exert  themselves  in  improving  the 
old  one.  Bonze  was  especially  active  in  contriving  new 
boilers  and  new  arrangements,  by  which  he  promised  to 
outstrip  all  that  Watt  could  possibly  accomplish.2 

1  Watt  to  Boulton,  25th  August, 
1777.     Boulton  MSS. 

2  "  I    have    seen   five    of    Bonze's 
engines,"  wrote  Watt,  "  but  was  far 
from   seeing   the   wonders    promised. 
They  were  60,  63,  and  70  inch  cylin- 

ders. At  Dalcoath  and  Wheal  Chance 
they  are  said  to  use  each  about  130 
bushels  of  coals  in  the  24  hours,  and 
to  make  about  6  or  7  strokes  per 
minute,  the  strokes  being  under  6  feet 
each.  They  are  burdened  to  6,  63, 



-  235 

A  letter  from  Mrs.  Watt  to  Mrs.  Boulton,  dated 
Chacewater,  September  1st,  1777,  throws  a  little  light 
on  Watt's  private  life  during  his  stay  in  Cornwall.  She 
describes  the  difficulty  they  had  in  obtaining  accommo- 
dation on  their  arrival,  "no  such  thing  as  a  house  or 
lodging  to  be  had  for  any  money  within  some  miles  of 
the  place  where  the  engine  was  to  be  erected ; "  hence 
they  had  been  glad  to  accept  of  the  hospitality  of  Mr. 
Wilson,  the  superintendent  of  the  mine. 

"  I  scarcely  know  what  to  say  to  you  of  the  country.  The  spot 
we  are  at  is  the  most  disagreeable  in  the  whole  county.  The  face 
of  the  earth  is  broken  up  in  ten  thousand  heaps  of  rubbish,  and 
there  is  scarce  a  tree  to  be  seen.  But  don't  think  that  all  Cornwall 
is  like  Chacewater.  I  have  been  at  some  places  that  are  very 
pleasant,  nay  beautiful.  The  sea-coast  to  me  is  charming,  but  not 
easy  to  be  got  at.  In  some  cases  my  poor  husband  has  been  obliged 
to  mount  me  behind  him  to  go  to  some  of  the  places  we  have  been 
at.  I  assure  you  I  was  not  a  little  perplexed  at  first  to  be  set  on  a 
great  tall  horse  with  a  high  pillion.  At  one  of  our  jaunts  we  were 
only  charged  twopence  a  piece  for  our  dinner.  You  may  guess 
what  our  fare  would  be  from  the  cost  of  it ;  but  I  assure  you  I 
never  ate  a  dinner  with  more  relish  in  my  life,  nor  was  I  ever 
happier  at  a  feast,  than  I  was  that  day  at  Portreath.  .  .  .  One  thing 
I  must  tell  you  of  is,  to  take  care  Mr.  Boulton's  principles  are  well 
fixed  before  you  trust  him  here.  Poor  Mr.  Watt  is  turned  Anabaptist, 
and  duly  attends  their  meeting ;  he  is,  indeed,  and  goes  to  chapel 
most  devoutly." 

At  last  the  Chacewater  engine  was  finished  and  ready 
for  work.  Great  curiosity  was  felt  about  its  per- 
formances, and  mining  men  and  engineers  came  from 
all  quarters  to  see  it  start.  "  All  the  world  are  agape," 
said  Watt,  "  to  see  what  it  can  do."  It  would  not  have 
displeased  some  of  the  spectators  if  it  had  failed.  But 
to  their  astonishment  it  succeeded.  At  starting,  it  made 
eleven  eight-feet  strokes  per  minute ;  and  it  worked  with 
greater  power,  went  more  steadily,  and  "  forked  "  more 

and  7  Ibs.  per  inch.  One  of  the  60 
inches  threw  out  about  two  cubic  feet 
of  hot  water  per  stroke,  heated  from 
60°  to  165°.  The  63  inches,  with  a  5 

feet  stroke,  threw  out  1£  cubic  foot, 
heated  from  60°  to  159°,"  and  so  on 
with  the  others. — Watt  to  Boulton, 
25th  August,  1777.  Boulton  MSS. 

236   , 



water  than  any  of  the  ordinary  engines,  with  only  about 
one-third  the  consumption  of  coal.  "  We  have  had 
many  spectators,"  wrote  Watt,  "and  several  have 
already  become  converts.  I  understand  all  the  west- 
country  captains  are  to  be  here  to-morrow  to  see  the 
prodigy."1  Even  Bonze,  his  rival,  called  to  see  it,  and 
promised  not  only  to  read  his  recantation  as  soon  as  con- 
vinced, but  never  to  touch  a  common  engine  again. 
"  The  velocity,  violence,  magnitude,  and  horrible  noise 
of  the  engine,"  Watt  added,  "  give  universal  satisfaction 
to  all  beholders,  believers  or  not.  I  have  once  or  twice 
trimmed  the  engine  to  end  its  stroke  gently,  and  to 

make  less  noise ;  but 
Mr.  Wilson  cannot 
sleep  without  it 
seems  quite  furious, 
so  I  have  left  it  to 
the  engine-men; 
and,  by  the  by,  the 
noise  seems  to  con- 
vey great  ideas  of 
its  power  to  the 
ignorant,  who  seem 
to  be  no  more  taken 
with  modest  merit 
in  an  engine  than 
in  a  man."  In  a 
later  letter  he 
wrote,  "  The  voice 
of  the  country 
seems  to  be  at  pre- 
sent in  our  favour ; 
and  I  hope  will  be 
much  more  so  when 
the  engine  gets  on  its  whole  load,  which  will  be  by  Tuesday 
next.  So  soon  as  that  is  done,  I  shall  set  out  for  home." 


1   Watt  to  Ikmlton,  13th  September,  1777. 


A  number  of  orders  for  engines  had  come  in  at  Soho 
during  Watt's  absence ;  and  it  became  necessary  for  him 
to  return  there  as  speedily  as  possible,  to  prepare  the 
plans  and  drawings,  and  put  the  work  in  hand.  There 
was  no  person  yet  attached  to  the  concern  who  was 
capable  of  relieving  him  of  this  part  of  his  duties  ;  while 
Boulton  was  fully  occupied  with  conducting  the  com- 
mercial part  of  the  business.  By  the  end  of  autumn 
he  was  again  at  home ;  and  for  a  week  after  his  return 
he  kept  so  close  to  his  desk  in  his  house  on  Harper's 
Hill,  that  he  could  not  even  find  time  enough  to  go  out 
to  Soho  and  see  what  had  been  doing  in  his  absence. 
At  length  he  felt  so  exhausted  by  the  brain-work  and 
confinement  that  he  wrote  to  his  partner,  "  a  very  little 
more  of  this  hurrying  and  vexation  will  knock  me 
up  altogether."  To  add  to  his  troubles,  letters  arrived 
from  Tingtang,  urging  his  return  to  Cornwall,  to  erect 
the  engine,  the  materials  for  which  had  at  last  arrived. 
"  I  fancy,"  said  Watt,  "  that  I  must  be  cut  in  pieces,  and 
a  portion  sent  to  every  tribe  in  Israel." 

After  four  month's  labour  of  this  sort,  during  which 
seven  out  of  the  ten  engines  then  in  hand  were  finished 
and  erected,  and  the  others  well  advanced,  Watt  again 
set  out  for  Cornwall,  which  he  reached  by  the  beginning 
of  June,  1778.  He  took  up  his  residence  at  Eedruth,  as 
being  more  convenient  for  Tingtang  than  Chacewater, 
hiring  a  house  at  Plengwarry,  a  hamlet  on  the  out- 
skirts of  the  town.  Eedruth  is  the  capital  of  the  mining 
districts  of  Camborne,  Eedruth,  and  Gwennap.  It  is 
an  ancient  town,  consisting  for  the  most  part  of  a  long 
street,  which  runs  down  one  hill  and  up  another. 

All  round  it  the  country  seems  to  have  been  disem- 
bowelled ;  and  heaps  of  scoriae,  "  deads,"  rubbish,  and 
granite  blocks  cover  the  surface.  The  view  from  the 
lofty  eminence  of  Cam  Brea,  a  little  to  the  south  of 
Eedruth,  strikingly  shows  the  scarified  and  apparently 
blasted  character  of  the  district,  and  affords  a  prospect 
the  like  of  which  is  rarely  to  be  seen. 



REDROTH   HIGH   STREET.      [  By  R.   P    Leitch.] 

On  making  inquiry  as  to  the  materials  which  had 
arrived  during  his  absence,  Watt  was  much  mortified  to 
find  that  the  Soho  workmen  had  made  many  mistakes. 
"  Forbes's  eduction-pipe,"  he  wrote,  "  is  a  most  vile  job, 
and  full  of  holes.  The  cylinder  they  have  cast  for  Chace- 
water  is  still  worse,  for  it  will  hardly  do  at  all.  The 
Soho  people  have  sent  here  Chacewater  eduction-pipe 
instead  of  Wheal  Union  ;  and  the  gudgeon  pipe  has  not 
arrived  with  the  nozzles.  These  repeated  disappoint- 
ments," said  he,  "  will  undoubtedly  ruin  our  credit  in 
the  country ;  and  I  cannot  stay  here  to  bear  the  shame 
of  such  failures  of  promise/' 

Watt  had  a  hard  time  of  it  while  in  Cornwall,  wlmt 


with  riding  and  walking  from  mine  to  mine,  listening 
to  complaints  of  delay  in  the  arrival  of  the  engines  from 
Soho,  and  detecting  and  remedying  the  blunders  and 
bad  workmanship  of  his  mechanics.  Added  to  which, 
everybody  was  low-spirited  and  almost  in  despair  at  the 
bad  times, — ores  falling  in  price,  mines  filled  with  water, 
engine-men  standing  idle,  and  adventurers  bemoaning 
their  losses.  Another  source  of  anxiety  was  the  serious 
pecuniary  embarrassments  in  which  the  Soho  firm  had 
become  involved.  Boulton  had  so  many  concerns  going 
that  a  vast  capital  was  required  for  the  purpose  of 
meeting  current  engagements ;  and  the  engine  business, 
instead  of  relieving  him,  had  hitherto  only  proved  a 
source  of  additional  outlay,  and  increased  his  difficulties 
at  a  time  of  general  commercial  depression.  He  wrote 
Watt,  urging  him  to  send  remittances  for  the  Cornish 
engines ;  but  the  materials,  though  partly  delivered,  wrere 
not  erected ;  and  the  miners  demurred  to  paying  on 
account  until  they  were  fixed  complete  and  at  work. 
Boulton  then  suggested  to  Watt  that  he  should  try  to 
obtain  an  advance  from  the  Truro  bankers,  on  security 
of  the  engine  materials.  "  No,"  replied  Watt,  "  that 
cannot  be  done,  as  the  knowledge  of  our  difficulties 
would  damage  our  position  in  Cornwall,  and  hurt  our 
credit.  Besides,"  said  he,  "no  one  can  be  more  cautious 
than  a  Cornish  banker ;  and  the  principal  of  the  firm 
you  name  is  himself  exceedingly  distressed  for  money." l 
Nor  was  there  the  least  chance,  in  Watt's  opinion,  even 
if  they  had  the  money  to  advance,  of  their  accepting 
any  security  that  Boulton  and  Watt  had  to  offer.  "  Such 
is  the  nature  of  the  people  here,"  said  he,  "  and  so  little 
faith  have  they  in  our  engine,  that  very  few  of  them 
believe  it  to  be  materially  better  than  the  ordinary  one, 
and  so  far  as  I  can  judge,  no  one  I  have  conversed  with 
would  advance  us  500/.  on  a  mortgage  of  it."2 

All  that  Watt  could  do  was  to  recommend  that  the 

1  Watt  to  Eoulton,  2nd  July,  1778.  I      -  Watt  to  Boulton,  8th  July,  1778, 
Boulton  MSS.  Boulton  MSS. 


evil  day  should  be  staved  off  as  long  as  possible,  or  at 
all  events  until  the  large  engines  he  was  then  erecting 
were  at  work,  when  he  believed  their  performances 
would  effect  a  complete  change  in  the  views  of  the 
adventurers.  The  only  suggestion  he  could  offer  was 
to  invite  John  Wilkinson,  or  some  other  moneyed 
man,  to  join  them  as  partner  and  relieve  them  of  their 
difficulties ;  for  "  rather  than  founder  at  sea,"  said  he, 
"we  had  better  run  ashore."1  Meanwhile,  he  urged 
Boulton  to  apply  the  pruning-knife  and  cut  down  ex- 
penses, assuring  him  that  he  himself  was  practising  all 
the  frugality  in  his  power.  But  as  Watt's  personal 
expenses  at  the  time  did  not  amount  to  2/.  a  week,  it  is 
clear  that  any  savings  he  could  effect,  however  justifiable 
and  laudable,  were  but  a  drop  in  the  ocean  compared 
with  the  liabilities  to  be  met,  and  which  must  be  pro- 
vided without  delay  to  avoid  insolvency  and  ruin. 

Fothergill,  Boulton' s  other  partner,  was  even  more 
desponding  than  Watt.  When  Boulton  left  Soho  on 
his  journeys  to  raise  ways  and  means,  Fothergill  pur- 
sued him  with  dolorous  letters,  telling  him  of  mails 
that  had  arrived  without  remittances,  of  bills  that  must 
be  met,  of  wages  that  must  be  paid  on  Saturday  night, 
and  of  the  impending  bankruptcy  of  the  firm,  which  he 
again  and  again  declared  to  be  "  inevitable."  "  Better 
stop  payment  at  once,"  said  he,  "  call  our  creditors  toge- 
ther, and  face  the  worst,  than  go  on  in  this  neck-and- 
neck  race  with  ruin."  Boulton  would  hurry  back  to 
Soho,  to  quiet  Fothergill,  and  keep  the  concern  going ; 
on  which  another  series  of  letters  would  pour  in  upon 
him  from  Mr.  Matthews,  the  London  financial  agent, 
pressing  for  remittances,  and  reporting  the  increasingly 
gloomy  and  desperate  state  of  affairs. 

Boulton  himself  was,  as  usual,  equal  to  the  occasion. 
His  courage  and  determination  rose  in  proportion  to  the 

1  Watt  to  Boulton,  8th  July,  1778.     Boulton  MSS. 




difficulties  to  be  overcome.  He  was  borne  up  by  his  in- 
vincible hope,  by  his  unswerving  purpose,  and  above  all 
by  his  unshaken  belief  in  the  commercial  value  of  the 
condensing"  engine.  If  they  could  only  weather  the  storm 
until  its  working  powers  could  be  fully  demonstrated, 
all  would  yet  be  well. 

In  illustration  of  his  hopefulness,  we  may  mention 
that  in  the  midst  of  his  troubles  a  fire  took  place  in  the 
engine-room  at  Soho,  which  was  happily  extinguished, 
but  not  before  it  had  destroyed  the  roof  and  done  serious 
damage  to  the  engine,  which  was  brought  to  a  stand- 
still. Boulton  had  long  been  desirous  of  rebuilding  the 
engine-house  in  a  proper  manner,  but  had  been  hindered 
by  Watt,  who  was  satisfied  with  alterations  merely  suf- 
ficient to  accommodate  the  place  to  the  changes  made 
from  time  to  time  in  the  engine  which  he  called 
"Beelzebub."1  On  hearing  of  the  damage  done  by  the 
fire,  Boulton,  instead  of  lamenting  over  it,  exclaimed, 
"  Now  I  shall  be  able  at  last  to  have  the  engine-house 
built  as  it  should  be." 

After  many  negotiations,  Boulton  at  length  succeeded 

1  While  in  Cornwall  in  the  previous 
year,  Watt  wrote  long  letters  to  his 
partner  as  to  certain  experimental 
alterations  of  "  Beelzebub."  This  was 
the  original  engine  brought  from 
Kinneil,  which  continued  to  be  the 
subject  of  constant  changes.  "  I  send 
a  drawing,"  he  wrote  on  the  4th 
August,  1777,  "  of  the  best  scheme  I 
can  at  present  devise  for  equalising 
the  power  of  Beelzebub,  and  obliging 
him  to  save  part  of  his  youthful 
strength  to  help  him  forward  in  his 
old  age.  ...  As  the  head  of  one  of 
the  levers  will  rise  higher  than  the 
roof,  a  hole  must  be  cut  for  it,  which 
may  after  trial  be  covered  over.  If 
the  new  beam  answer  to  be  centred 
upon  the  end  wall  and  to  go  out  at  a 
window,  it  will  make  the  execution 
easy.  ...  I  long  (he  concluded)  to 
have  some  particulars  of  Beelzebub's 
doings,  and  to  learn  whether  he  has  ' 

got  on  his  jockey  coat  yet  [i.  e.  an 
outer  cylinder],  for  till  that  be  done, 
you  can  form  no  idea  of  his  perfection." 
The  engine  continued  to  be  the  subject 
of  repeated  alterations,  and  was  re- 
newed, as  Watt  observed,  like  the 
Highlandman's  gun,  in  stock,  lock,  and 
barrel.  After  the  occurrence  of  the 
above  fire,  we  learn  from  Watt's 
MS.  Memoir  of  Boulton,  that  "  Beelze- 
bub "  was  replaced  by  a  larger  engine, 
the  first  on  the  expansive  principle, 
afterwards  known  by  tlie  name  of 
"Old  Bess."  This  engine  continued 
in  its  place  long  after  the  career  of 
Boulton  and  Watt  had  come  to  an 
end ;  and  in  the  year  1857,  the  present 
writer  saw  "Old  Bess"  working  as 
steadily  as  ever,  though  eighty  years 
had  passed  over  her  head.  The  old 
engine  has  since  found  an  honourable 
asylum  in  the  Museum  of  Patents  at 
South  Kensington. 



in  raising  a  sum  of  7000/.  by  granting  a  Mr.  Wiss 
security  for  the  payment  of  an  annuity,  while  the 
London  bankers,  Lowe,  Yere,  and  Williams,  allowed 
an  advance  of  14,000/.  on  security  of  a  mortgage 
granted  by  Boulton  and  Watt  on  the  royalties  derived 
from  the  engine  patent,  and  of  all  their  rights  and  privi- 
leges therein.  Though  the  credit  of  the  house  was  thus 
saved,  the  liabilities  of  Boulton  and  his  partners  con- 
tinued to  press  heavily  upon  them  for  a  long  time  to 
come.  Meanwhile,  however,  a  gleam  of  light  came  from 
Cornwall.  Watt  sent  the  good  news  to  Soho  that  "  both 
Chacewater  and  Tingtang  engines  go  on  exceedingly 
well,  and  give  great  satisfaction.  Chacewater  goes  14 
strokes  of  9  foot  long  per  minute,  and  burns  about  128 
bushels  per  24  hours.  The  water  has  sunk  12  fathoms 
in  the  mine,  and  the  engine  will  fork  [i.  e.  pump  out] 
the  first  lift  this  night.  No  cross  nor  accident  of  any 
note  has  happened,  except  the  bursting  of  a  pump  at 
Tingtang,  which  was  soon  repaired."  Four  days  later 
Watt  wrote,  "  The  engines  are  both  going  very  well, 
and  Chacewater  has  got  the  water  down  18 \  fathoms; 
but  after  this  depth  it  must  make  slower  progress,  as 
a  very  large  house  of  water  begins  there,  and  the  feeders 
grow  stronger  as  we  go  deeper."1 

Watt  looked  upon  the  Chacewater  trial  as  the  experi- 
mentum  crucis,  and  continued  to  keep  his  partner  duly 
informed  of  every  circumstance  connected  with  it. 
"  They  say,"  he  wrote,  "  that  if  the  new  engine  can  fork 
the  water  from  Chacewater,  it  can  fork  anything,  as  that 
is  the  heaviest  to  fork  in  the  whole  county."  On  the 
15th  of  August  he  wrote,  "  Chacewater  is  now  down  to 
10  fathoms  of  the  second  lift,  and  works  steady  and 
well ;  it  sinks  9  feet  per  day.  Chacewater  people  in 
high  spirits  :  Captain  Mayor  furiously  in  love  with  the 
engine."  On  the  29th  he  wrote  again,  "Chacewater 

1  Watt  to  Boulton,  8th  August,  1778.     Boulton  MSS. 


engine  is  our  capital  card,  for  should  it  succeed  in  forking 
this  mine  all  doubts  will  then  be  removed."  The  ad- 
venturers of  the  great  Poldice  mine  watched  the  opera- 
tions at  Chace water  with  much  interest.  Two  common 
engines,  pumping  night  and  day  for  months,  had  failed 
to  clear  their  mine  of  water ;  and  now  they  thought  of 
ordering  one  of  the  new  engines  to  take  their  place ; 
"  but  all  this,"  said  Watt,  "  depends  on  the  success  of 
Chace  water,  which  God  protect:  it  is  now  down  31^ 
fathoms,  and  will  be  in  fork  of  this  lift  to-morrow,  when 
it  is  to  be  put  down  three  fathoms  lower,  and  fixed 
there."  On  the  17th  he  wrote,  "  I  have  been  at  Chace- 
water  to-day,  where  they  are  in  fork  of  the  second  lift 
34^  fathoms.  The  great  connexion-rod  still  unbalanced. 
The  engine  went  yesterday  14  strokes  per  minute.  To- 
morrow I  go  to  Wheal  Union,  and  on  Saturday  to  Truro, 
to  meet  Poldice  adventurers.  .  .  .  By  attending  to  the 
business  of  this  county  alone,"  said  he,  "  we  may  at  least 
live  comfortably ;  for  I  cannot  suppose  that  less  than 
twelve  engines  will  be  wanted  in  two  or  three  years, 
but  after  that  very  few  more,  as  these  will  be  sufficient 
to  get  ore  enough  ;  though  you  cannot  reckon  the  average 
profits  to  us  at  above  200/.  per  engine." 

When  Boulton  and  Watt  first  started  the  manu- 
facture of  steam-engines,  they  were  mainly  concerned 
to  get  orders,  and  were  not  very  particular  as  to  the 
terms  on  which  they  were  obtained.  But  when  the 
orders  increased,  and  the  merits  of  the  invention  gra- 
dually became  recognised,  they  found  it  necessary  to  re- 
quire preliminary  agreements  to  be  entered  into  as  to 
the  terms  on  which  the  patent  was  to  be  used.  It 
occurred  to  them,  that  as  one  of  its  principal  merits 
consisted  in  the  saving  of  fuel,  it  would  be  a  fair 
arrangement  to  take  one-third  of  the  value  of  such 
saving  by  way  of  royalty,  leaving  the  owners  of  the 
engines  to  take  the  benefit  of  the  remaining  two- 
thirds.  Nothing  could  be  fairer  than  the  spirit  of 

K  2 



this  arrangement,  which,  it  will  be  seen,  was  of  even 
more  advantage  to  the  owners  of  the  engines  than  to 
the  patentees  themselves.  The  first  Cornish  engines 
were,  however,  erected  without  any*  condition  as  to 
terms ;  and  it  was  only  after  they  had  proved  their 
power  by  "  forking  "  the  water,  and  sending  the  miners 
twenty  fathoms  deeper  into  the  ground,  that  the  ques- 
tion of  terms  was  raised.  Watt  proposed  that  agree- 
ments should  be  entered  into  on  the  basis  above  indicated. 
But  the  Cornish  men  did  not  see  the  use  of  agreements. 
They  had  paid  for  the  engines,  which  were  theirs,  and 
Boulton  and  Watt  could  not  take  them  away.  Here  was 
the  beginning  of  a  long  series  of  altercations,  which 
ended  only  with  the  patent  right  itself.  The  miners 
could  not  do  without  the  engine.  It  was  admitted  to 
be  of  immense  value  to  them,  rendering  many  of  their 
mines  workable  that  would  otherwise  have  been  value- 
less. But  why  should  they  have  to  pay  for  the  use 
of  such  an  invention  ?  This  was  what  they  never  could 
clearly  understand. 

To  prevent  misunderstandings  in  future,  Watt  wrote 
to  Boulton,  recommending  that  no  further  orders  for 
engines  should  be  taken  unless  the  terms  for  using 
them  were  definitely  settled  beforehand.  "  You  must 
excuse  me,"  he  added,  "  when  I  tell  you  that,  for  my 
part,  I  will  not  put  pen  to  paper  [i.  e.  make  the  requi- 
site drawings]  on  a  new  subject  until  that  is  done. 
Until  an  engine  is  ordered,  our  power  is  greater  than 
that  of  the  Lord  Chancellor  ;  as  I  believe  even  he  cannot 
compel  us  to  make  it  unless  we  choose.  Let  our  terms 
be  moderate,  and,  if  possible,  consolidated  into  money 
a  priori,  and  it  is  certain  we  shall  get  some  money, 
enough  to  keep  us  out  of  jail,  in  continual  apprehension 
of  which  I  live  at  present."  l 

1  Watt  to  Boulton,  29th  August, 
1778.  Later,  Watt  wrote  from  Eed- 
rutli,  "  Captain  Paul  desires  me  to 

attend  at  Wheal  Virgin  meeting  on 
Thursday,  where  several  Tingtang 
people  will  he;  hut  I  shall  only 


To  meet  the  case,  a  form  of  agreement  was  drawn  up 
and  required  to  be  executed  before  any  future  engine 
was  commenced.  It  usually  provided  that  an  engine  of 
certain  given  dimensions  and  power  was  to  be  erected 
at  the  expense  of  the  owners  of  the  mine  ;  and  that  the 
patentees  were  to  take  as  their  recompense  for  the  use 
of  their  invention,  one-third  of  the  value  of  the  fuel  saved 
by  it  compared  with  the  consumption  of  the  ordinary 
engine.  It  came  to  be  understood  that  the  saving  of 
fuel  was  to  be  estimated  according  to  the  number  of 
strokes  made.  To  ascertain  this,  Watt  contrived  an  in- 
genious piece  of  clockwork,  termed  the  Counter,  which, 
being  attached  to  the  main  beam,  accurately  marked  and 
registered,  under  lock  and  key,  the  number  of  its  vibra- 
tions. Thus  the  work  done  was  calculated,  and  the 
comparative  saving  of  fuel  was  ascertained. 

Though  the  Cornish  miners  had  been  full  of  doubts 
as  to  the  successful  working  of  Watt's  engine,  they 
could  not  dispute  the  evidence  of  their  senses  after  it 
had  been  erected  and  was  fairly  at  work.  There  it 
was,  "forking  water"  as  never  engine  before  had  been 
known  to  "  fork."  It  had  completely  mastered  the 
water  at  Wheal  Busy ;  and  if  it  could  send  the  work- 
men down  that  mine,  it  could  in  like  manner  send  them 
down  elsewhere.  Wheal  Virgin  was  on  the  point  of 
stopping  work,  in  which  case  some  two  thousand  per- 
sons would  be  thrown  out  of  bread.  Bonze's  new  atmo- 
spheric engine  had  proved  a  failure,  and  the  mine  con- 
tinued flooded.  It  had  also  failed  at  Poldice,  which  was 

write,  as  I  know  they  will  be  just  in 
the  worst  of  humours  about  Wheal 
Virgin  affairs,  and  they  are  very  dis- 
agreeable at  the  best.  Every  article 
must  be  settled  and  sealed  with 
Cornish  adventures  before  we  begin, 
otherwise  never.  .  .  Do  not  let  Chelsea 
begin  until  signed  arid  sealed.  I  hope 
you  will  not  take  amiss  my  writing  so 

ments ;  but  really  my  faith  in  man- 
kind will  carry  me  no  further,  and  if 
I  can't  get  money,  I'm  resolved  to 
save  my  bacon  and  to  live  in  hunger 
and  ease.  As  it  is,  we  don't  get  such 
a  share  of  reputation  as  our  works 
deserve,  for  every  man  who  cheats  us 
defames  us  in  order  to  justify  himself." 
—Watt  to  Boulton,  6th  September, 

positively   on   this   subject    of  agree-     1778.    Boulton  MSS. 




drowned  out.  "  Notwithstanding  the  violence  and  pre- 
judice against  us,"  wrote  Watt,  "  nothing  can  save  the 
mines  but  our  engines  ....  Even  the  infidels  of  Dal- 
coath  are  now  obliquely  inquiring  after  our  terms ! 
Cook's  Kitchen,  which  communicates  with  it,  has  been 
drowned  out  some  time."  Watt,  accordingly,  had 
many  applications  about  engines ;  and  on  that  account 
he  entreated  his  partner  to  come  to  his  help.  He  con- 
tinued to  hate  all  negotiating  about  terms,  and  it  did 
not  seem  as  if  he  would  ever  learn  to  like  it.  He  had 
neither  the  patience  to  endure,  nor  the  business  tact  to 
conduct  a  negotiation.  He  wanted  confidence  in  him- 
self, and  did  not  feel  equal  to  make  a  bargain.  He 
would  almost  as  soon  have  wrestled  with  the  Cornish 
miners  as  higgled  with  them.  They  were  shrewd,  prac- 
tical men,  rough  in  manner  and  speech,  yet  honest 
withal ; *  but  Watt  would  not  encounter  them  when  he 
could  avoid  it.  Hence  his  repeated  calls  to  Boulton  to 
come  and  help  him.  Writing  to  him  about  the  proposed 
Wheal  Virgin  engine,  he  said,  "Before  I  make  any 
bargain  with  these  people,  I  must  have  you  here."  A 
few  days  after,  when  communicating  the  probability  of 
obtaining  an  order  for  the  Poldice  engine,  he  wrote,— 
"  I  wish  you  would  dispose  yourself  for  a  journey  here, 
and  strike  while  this  iron  is  hot."  A  fortnight  later  he 
said,  "  Poldice  people  are  now  welding  hot,  and  must 
not  be  suffered  to  cool.  They  are  exceedingly  impatient, 
as  they  lose  150/.  a  month  until  our  engine  is  going  .  .  . 
I  hope  this  will  find  you  ready  to  come  away.  .At 
Bedruth,  inquire  for  Plengwarry  Green,  where  you 
will  find  me." 

Boulton   must   have   been   greatly  harassed   by   the 

1  "  With  all  the  faults  of  the  Cor- 
nish people,  I  think  we  have  a  better 
chance  for  tolerable  honesty  here  than 
elsewhere,  as,  their  meetings  being 
public,  they  will  not  choose  to  expose 

themselves    any    further   than    strict 
dealing  may  justify ;  and  besides,  there 
are  generally  too  many  to  cabal."— 
Watt  to  Boulton,  29th  August,  1778. 
Boulton  MSS. 




woes  of  his  partners.  Fothergill  was  still  uttering 
lamentable  prophecies  of  impending  ruin ;  his  only 
prospect  of  relief  being  in  the  success  of  the  engine. 
He  urged  Boulton  to  endeavour  to  raise  money  by  the 
sale  of  engine  contracts  or  annuities,  in  order  to  avert 
a  crash.  Matthews,  the  London  agent,  also  continued 
to  represent  the  still  urgent  danger  of  the  house,  and 
pressed  Boulton  to  go  to  Cornwall  and  try  to  raise  money 
there  upon  his  engine  contracts.  Indeed,  it  was  clear 
that  the  firm  of  Boulton  and  Fothergill  had  been  losing 
money  by  their  business  for  several  years  past ;  and 
that,  unless  the  engine  succeeded,  they  must,  ere  long, 
go  to  the  wall.  But  when  Boulton  turned  to  Corn- 
wall, he  found  little  comfort.  Though  the  engines  there 
were  successful,  Watt  could  not  raise  money  upon  them. 
The  adventurers  were  poor, — were  for  the  most  part 
losing  by  their  ventures,  in  consequence  of  the  low 
price  of  the  ore ;  and  they  almost  invariably  put  off 
payment  by  excuses.  Thus,  while  Boulton  was  in 
London  trying  to  obtain  accommodation  from  his 
bankers,  the  groans  of  his  partner  in  Birmingham  were 
more  than  re-echoed  by  the  lamentations  of  his  other 
partner  in  Cornwall,  who  rang  the  changes  of  misery 
through  all  the  notes  of  the  gamut. 

At  length,  about  the  beginning  of  October,  1778, 
Boulton  contrived  to  make  his  long-promised  journey 
into  Cornwall.1  He  went  round  among  the  mines,  and 
had  many  friendly  conferences  with  the  managers.  He 
found  the  engine  had  grown  in  public  favour,  and  that 
the  impression  prevailed  throughout  the  mining  dis- 
tricts that  it  would  before  long  become  generally 
adopted.  Encouraged  by  his  London  financial  agent, 
he  took  steps  to  turn  this  favourable  impression  to 

1  During  his  absence  Mr.  Keir  took 
charge  of  the  works  at  Soho.  It  had 
been  intended  to  introduce  him  as  a 
partner,  and  he  left  the  glass-making 
concern  at  Stourbridge,  into  which  he 

had  entered,  for  the  purpose ;  but  when 
he  came  to  look  into  the  books  of 
the  Soho  firm,  he  was  so  appalled  by 
their  liabilities  that  he  eventually  de- 
clined the  connexion. 




account.1  Before  he  left  Cornwall,  where  he  remained 
until  the  end  of  the  year,  he  succeeded  in  borrowing 
a  sum  of  2000/.  from  Elliot  and  Praed,  the  Truro 
bankers,  on  security  of  the  engines  erected  in  the 
county ;  and  the  money  was  at  once  forwarded  to 
the  London  agents  for  the  relief  of  the  Birmingham 
firm.  He  also  succeeded  in  getting  the  terms  definitely 
arranged  for  the  use  of  several  of  the  more  important 
engines  erected  and  at  work.  It  was  agreed  that 
TOO/,  a  year  should  be  paid  as  royalty  in  respect  of 
the  Chace water  engine, — an  arrangement  even  more 
advantageous  to  the  owners  of  the  mine  than  to  the 
patentees,  as  it  was  understood  that  the  saving  of  coals 
amounted  to  upwards  of  2400/.  a  year.  Other  agree- 
ments were  entered  into  for  the  use  of  the  engines 
erected  at  Wheal  Union  and  Tingtang,  which  brought 
in  about  400/.  per  annum  more,  so  that  the  harvest  of 
profits  seemed  at  length  fairly  begun. 

Watt  remained  at  Cornwall  for  another  month,  plod- 
ding at  Poldice  and  Wheal  Virgin  engines,  and  returned 
to  Birmingham  early  in  January,  1779.  Though  the 
pumping-engine  had  thus  far  proved  remarkably  suc- 
cessful, and  accomplished  all  that  Watt  had  promised,  he 
was  in  no  better  spirits  than  before.  "  Though  we  have, 
in  general,  succeeded  in  our  undertakings,"  he  wrote 

1  Matthews  wrote  him  on  the  8th 
October,  1778,  that  he  had  met  a  Mr. 
Boldero  at  the  Goldsmiths'  Hall,  who 
had  much  influence  in  Cornwall,  and 
that  he  expressed  the  opinion  that,  if 
the  engines  could  do  what  Boulton 
and  Watt  promised,  they  might  soon 
get  from  40,0002.  to  80,000?.  for  them 
in  Cornwall.  Matthews  accordingly 
recommended  Boulton  to  apply  to 
Elliot  and  Praed,  the  Cornish  bankers, 
for  an  advance  on  security  of  the 
engine  contracts. — It  would  appear 
from  a  letter  written  to  Boulton  a  few 
days  later,  by  Mr.  Barton,  Matthews's 
partner,  that  Boulton  was,  amidst  his 
many- speculations,  engaged  in  a  priva- 
teering adventure  during  the  war  of 

the  American  Revolution  : — "  It  may 
give  you  some  pleasure,"  wrote  Barton, 
"  to  hear  we  are  likely  to  receive  some 
produce  from  our  adventure  to  New 
York.  One  of  the  vessels  our  little 
brig  took  last  year  was  fitted  out  at 
New  York,  and  in  a  cruise  of  13  weeks 
has  taken  13  prizes,  12  of  which  are 
carried  safe  in,  and  we  have  advice  of 
200  hogsheads  of  tobacco  being  shipped 
as  part  of  the  prizes,  which,  if  now 
here,  would  fetch  us  10,0002.  But 
while  the  embargo  on  shipping  at 
New  York  continues,  they  cannot  stir 
out  of  port.  However,  /  think  we 
shall  see  them  before  you  raise  that 
sum  from  your  engine  concern,  and 
yet  I  hope  that  is  not  very  far  off" 


Dr.  Black,  "  yet  that  success  has,  from  various  unavoid- 
able circumstances,  produced  small  profits  to  us ;  the 
struggles  we  have  had  with  natural  difficulties,  and  with 
the  ignorance,  prejudices,  and  villanies  of  mankind, 
have  been  very  great,  but  I  hope  are  now  nearly  come 
to  an  end,  or  vanquished."  l  His  difficulties  were  not, 
however,  nearly  at  an  end,  as  the  heavy  liabilities  of 
the  firm  had  still  to  be  met.  More  money  had  to  be 
borrowed ;  and  Watt  continued  to  groan  under  his  in- 
tolerable burden.  "  The  thought  of  the  debt  to  Lowe, 
Vere,  and  Co.,"  he  wrote  to  his  partner,  "  lies  too  heavy 
on  my  mind  to  leave  me  the  proper  employment  of  my 
faculties  in  the  prosecution  of  our  business ;  and,  besides, 
common  honesty  will  prevent  me  from  loading  the  scheme 
with  debts  which  might  be  more  than  it  could  pay." 2 

A  more  hopeful  man  would  have  borne  up  under 
these  difficulties ;  for  the  reputation  of  the  engine  was 
increasing,  and  orders  were  coming  in  from  various 
quarters.  Soho  was  full  of  work ;  and,  provided  their 
credit  could  be  maintained,  it  was  clear  that  the  under- 
taking on  which  the  firm  had  entered  could  not  fail  to 
prove  remunerative.  Watt  could  not  see  this,  but  his 
partner  did ;  and  Boulton  accordingly  strained  every 
nerve  to  keep  up  the  character  of  the  concern.  While 
Watt  was  urging  upon  him  to  curtail  the  business,- 
Boulton  sought  in  all  ways  to  extend  it.  He  sent 
accounts  of  his  marvellous  engines  abroad,  and  orders  for 
them  came  in  from  France 3  and  Holland.  Watt  was 

1  Watt  to  Black,  12th  December, 

2  Watt  to  Boulton,  15th  Jan.,  1779. 
8  M.  Perrier,  of  Paris,  ordered  an 

engine  early  in  1779,  and  the  mate- 
rials were  despatched  to  Nantes  by  the 
end  of  May  in  the  same  year.  The 
engine  was  erected  by  M.  Jary  at  a 
colliery  near  Nantes,  but  the  fitting 
was  so  bad — the  steam-case  having 
been  forgotten — that  it  went  only  four 
strokes  per  minute.  As  Boulton  and 

Watt  sought  a  patent  for  France,  it    ported  from  Soho. 

was  necessary  in  the  first  place  that 
Commissioners  should  certify  that  the 
new  engine  was  superior  to  the  common 
engine.  This  they  could  not  do,  and 
the  patent  was  not  secured.  Watt 
feared  that  there  was  "  a  plot "  against 
him ;  as  Perrier  immediately  proceeded 
with  a  manufacture  of  steam-engines 
after  the  alleged  invention  of  M. 
Betancourt,  though  this  "  invention  " 
turned  out  to  be  a  close  copy  of  the 
engine  M.  Betancourt  liimself  had  im- 


more  alarmed  than  gratified  by  the  foreign  orders, , 
fearing  that  the  engine  would  be  copied  and  exten- 
sively manufactured  abroad,  where  patents  had  not  yet 
been  secured.  He  did  not  see  that  the  best  protection 
of  all  was  in  the  superiority  of  his  tools  and  mechanics, 
enabling  first-class  work  to  be  turned  out, — important 
advantages,  in  which  the  Soho  firm  had  the  start  of  the 
world.  It  is  true  his  mechanics  were  liable  to  be 
bribed,  and  foreigners  were  constantly  haunting  Soho 
for  the  purpose  of  worming  out  the  secrets  of  the  manu- 
facture, and  decoying  away  the  best  men.  Against 
this  every  precaution  was  taken,  though  sometimes  in 
vain.  Two  Prussian  engineers  came  over  from  Berlin 
in  1779,  to  whom  Watt  showed  every  attention;  after 
which,  in  his  absence,  they  got  into  the  engine-room, 
and  carefully  examined  all  the  details  of  "  Old  Bess," 
making  notes.  When  Watt  returned,  he  was  in  high 
dudgeon,  and  wrote  to  his  partner  that  he  "could  not 
help  it  unless  by  discountenancing  every  foreigner  who 
does  not  come  avowedly  to  have  an  engine."  l 

Their  principal  reliance,  however,  was  necessarily  011 
home  orders,  and  these  came  in  satisfactorily.  Eight 
more  engines  were  wanted  for  Cornwall,  those  already 
at  work  continuing  to  give  satisfaction.  Inquiries  were 
also  made  about  pumping  engines  for  collieries  in 
different  parts  of  England.  But  where  coals  were  cheap, 
and  the  saving  of  fuel  was  of  less  consequence,  the 
patentees  were  not  solicitous  for  orders  unless  the  pur- 
chasers would  fix  a  fair  sum  for  the  patent  right,  or 
rate  the  coals  used  at  a  price  that  would  be  remune- 
rative in  proportion  to  the  savings  effected.  The 
orders  were,  indeed,  becoming  so  numerous,  that  the 
firm,  beginning  to  feel  their  power,  themselves  fixed 
the  annual  royalty,  though  it  was  not  always  so  easy 
to  get  it  paid. 

1  Watt  to  Boulton,  27th  January,  1779.     Boulton  MSS. 


The  working  power  of  Watt  himself  was  but  limited. 
He  still  continued  to  suffer  from  intense  headaches  ;  and, 
as  all  the  drawings  of  new  engines  were  made  by  his 
own  hands,  it  was  necessary  in  some  measure  to  limit 
the  amount  of  work  undertaken.  "  I  beg,"  he  wrote  to 
his  partner  in  May,  1779,  relative  to  proposals  made  for 
two  new  engines,  "that  you  will  not  undertake  to  do 
anything  for  them  before  Christmas.  It  is,  in  fact, 
impossible,  at  least  on  my  part ;  I  am  quite  crushed." 
But  he  was  not  always  so  dispirited,  for  in  the  following 
month  we  find  him  writing  Boulton  an  exultant  letter, 
announcing  orders  for  three  new  engines  from  Corn- 

Watt  continued  for  some  time  longer  to  suffer  great 
annoyance  from  the  shortcomings  of  his  workmen. 
He  was  himself  most  particular  in  giving  his  instruc- 
tions, verbally,  in  writing,  and  in  drawings.  When  he 
sent  a  workman  to  erect  an  engine,  he  sent  with  him 
a  carefully  drawn  up  detail  of  the  step  by  step  pro- 
ceedings he  was  to  adopt  in  fitting  the  parts  together. 
Where  there  was  a  difficulty,  and  likely  to  be  a  hitch, 
he  added  a  pen  and  ink  drawing,  rapid  but  graphic,  and 
pointed  out  how  the  difficulty  was  to  be  avoided.  It 
was  not  so  easy,  however,  to  find  workmen  capable  of 
intelligently  fitting  together  the  parts  of  a  machine  so 
complicated  and  of  so  novel  a  construction.  Moreover, 
the  first  engines  were  in  a  great  measure  experimental, 
and  to  have  erected  them  perfectly,  and  provided  by  an- 
ticipation for  their  various  defects,  would  have  argued 
a  knowledge  of  the  principles  of  their  construction 
almost  as  complete  as  that  of  Watt  himself.  He  was 
not  sufficiently  disposed  to  make  allowances  for  the  work- 

We  make  them  a  present  of  100  guineas — 
Peace  and  good-fellowship  on  earth — 

1  The  following    is   Watt's   letter, 
written  in  a  very  unusual  style : — 

"  Birmingham,  June  30th,  1779.  J0™1""  and  Evans  *?  "c.  «^"««^»- 

«  Hallelujah  !  "Hallelujee  !  n  T*  ^T  T      i    '"  C™ 

We  have  concluded  witl,  Hawkesburv,  Oudley  ""P011*81"11  and  {'mendant- 
21 7f.  per  annum  from  Lady-day  last  ;  Yours  rejoicing, 

275^.  5s.  for  time  past ;  157/.  on  account.  JAMES  WATT.'' 



men's  want  of  knowledge  and  want  of  experience,  and 
his  letters  were  accordingly  full  of  complaints  of  their 
shortcomings.  He  was  especially  annoyed  with  the 
mistakes  of  a  foreman,  named  Hall,  who  had  sent  the 
wrong  articles  to  Cornwall,  and  he  urged  Boulton  to 
dismiss  him  at  once. .  But  Boulton  knew  better.  Though 
Watt  understood  engines,  he  did  not  so  well  understand 
men.  Had  Boulton  dismissed  such  as  Hall  because  they 
made  mistakes,  the  shop  would  soon  have  been  empty. 
The  men  were  as  yet  but  at  school,  learning  experience, 
and  Boulton  knew  that  in  course  of  time  they  would 
acquire  dexterity.  He  was  ready  to  make  allowance  for 
their  imperfections,  but  at  the  same  time  he  did  not 
abate  in  his  endeavours  to  find  out  and  engage  the  best 
hands,  wherever  they  were  to  be  found — in  Wales,  in 
Cornwall,  or  in  Scotland.  He  therefore  kept  on  Hall, 
notwithstanding  Watt's  protest,  and  the  latter  sub- 

Watt  was  equally  wroth  with  the  enginemen  at  Bed- 
worth.  "  I  beg  and  expect,"  he  wrote  Boulton,  "  that  so 
soon  as  everything  is  done  to  that  engine,  you  will  in- 
stantly proceed  to  trial  before  creditable  witnesses,  and 
if  possible  have  the  whole  brood  of  these  enginemen 
displaced,  if  any  others  can  be  procured ;  for  nothing 
but  slovenliness,  if  not  malice,  is  to  be  expected  of 
them."  It  must,  however,  be  acknowledged  that  the 
Bedworth  engine  was  at  first  very  imperfect,  having 
been  made  of  bad  iron,  in  consequence  of  which  it  fre- 
quently broke  down.  In  Cornwall  the  men  were  no 
better.  Dudley,  Watt's  erector  at  Wheal  Chance  and 

1  Watt  wrote  Boulton,  2nd  July, 
1778,—"  On  the  subject  of  Mr.  Hall 
I  should  not  have  been  so  earnest 
had  I  not  been  urged  on  by  the  pro- 
spect of  impending  ruin,  which  may 
be  much  accelerated  by  a  wicked  or 
careless  servant  in  his  place."  Later, 

on  the  6th  August,  Watt  wrote,  "  I 
look  upon  Hall  as  a  very  great  blun- 
derer, and  very  inattentive  to  every- 
thing that  has  hitherto  been  committed 
to  his  care ;  but  I  think  that  our  pre- 
sent necessities  will  oblige  us  to  em- 
ploy him." — Boulton  MSS. 




Hallamanin,  was  pronounced  incapable  and  a  blunderer. 
"  If  something  be  not  very  bad  in  London,  I  wish  you 
would  employ  Hadley  to  finish  those  engines,  and  send 
Joseph  here  to  receive  his  instructions  and  proceed  to 
Cornwall,  otherwise  Dudley  will  ruin  us." ] 

The  trusty  "  Joseph "  was  accordingly  despatched  to 
Cornwall  to  look  after  Dudley,  and  remedy  the  defects 
in  Wheal  Chance  and  Hallamanin  engines ;  but  when 
Watt  arrived  at  Chace water  shortly  after,  he  found  that 
Joseph,  too,  had  proved  faithless.  He  wrote  to  Boulton, 
"  Joseph  has  pursued  his  old  practice  of  drinking  in  the 
neighbourhood  in  a  scandalous  manner,  until  the  very 

enginemeii  turned  him  into  ridicule I  have  not 

heard  how  he  behaved  in  the  west;  but  that  he  gave 
the  ale  there  a  bad  character."2  Notwithstanding,  how- 
ever, his  love  of  strong  potations,  Joseph  was  a  first-rate 
workman.  Two  days  later,  Watt  wrote,  "  Though 
Joseph  has  attended  to  his  drinking,  he  has  done  much 
good  at  his  leisure  hours,  and  has  certainly  prevented 
much  mischief  at  Hallamanin  and  some  at  Wheal  Union. 
He  has  had  some  hard  and  long  jobs,  and  consequently 
merits  some  indulgence  for  his  foibles."  By  the  end  of 
the  month  "  Joseph  had  conquered  Hallamanin  engine, 
all  but  the  boiler,"  but  Watt  added,  "His  indulgence 
has  brought  on  a  slight  fit  of  the  jaundice,  and  as  soon 
as  the  engine  is  finished,  he  must  be  sent  home." 3 

By  this  time  Watt  had  called  to  his  aid  two  other 
skilled  workmen,  Law  and  Murdock,  who  arrived  in 
Cornwall  in  the  beginning  of  September,  1779.  In 
Watt's  letters  we  find  frequent  allusions  to  Murdock. 
Wherever  any  work  had  to  be  done  requiring  more 
than  ordinary  attention,  Watt  specially  directed  that 
"  William  "  should  be  put  to  it.  "  Let  William  be  sent 

1  Watt   to   Boulton,  llth  August, 

2  Watt   to    Boulton,   4th    October, 


3  Watt  to  Boulton,  28th  October, 


for  from  Bedworth,"  he  wrote  from  Cornwall  in  1778, 
"  to  set  the  patterns  for  nozzles  quite  right  for  Poldice." 
Boulton  wished  to  send  him  into  Scotland  to  erect  the 
engine  at  Wenlockhead,  but  Watt  would  not  hear  of  it. 
"  William "  was  the  only  man  he  could  trust  with  the 
nozzles.  Then  William  was  sent  to  London  to  take  the 
charge  of  Chelsea  engine ;  next  to  Bedworth,  to  see  to 
the  completion  of  the  repairs  previous  to  the  final  trial ; 
then  to  Birmingham  again  to  attend  to  some  further 
special  instructions  of  Watt ;  and  now  we  find  him  in 
Cornwall,  to  take  charge  of  the  principal  engines 
erecting  there. 

William  Murdock  was  not  only  a  most  excellent  and 
steady  workman,  but  a  man  of  eminent  mechanical 
genius.  He  was  the  first  maker  of  a  model  locomotive 
in  this  country ;  he  was  the  introducer  of  lighting  by 
gas,  and  the  inventor  of  many  valuable  parts  of  the 
working  steam-engine,  hereafter  to  be  described.  His 
father  was  a  millwright  and  miller,  at  Bellow  Mill,  near 
Old  Cumnock,  in  Ayrshire,  and  was  much  esteemed  for 
his  probity  and  industry,  as  well  as  for  his  mechanical 
skill.  He  was  the  inventor  of  bevelled  cast-iron  gear 
for  mills,  and  his  son  was  proud  to  exhibit,  on  the  lawn 
in  front  of  his  house  at  Sycamore  Hill,  Handsworth,  a 
piece  of  the  first  work  of  the  kind  executed  in  Britain. 
It  was  cast  for  him  at  Carron  Ironworks,  after  the  pat- 
tern furnished  by  him,  in  1766.  William  was  born  in 
1754,  and  brought  up  to  his  father's  trade.  On  arriving 
at  manhood,  he  became  desirous  of  obtaining  a  larger 
experience  of  mill-work  and  mechanics  than  he  could 
acquire  in  his  father's  little  mill.  Hearing  of  the  fame 
of  Boulton  and  Watt,  and  the  success  of  their  new 
engine,  he  determined  to  travel  south,  and  seek  for  a 
job  at  Soho.  Many  Scotchmen  were  accustomed  to  call 
there  on  the  same  errand,  probably  relying  on  the 
known  clanship  of  their  countrymen,  and  thinking  that 
they  would  find  a  friend  and  advocate  in  Watt.  But 


strange  to  say,  Watt  did  not  think  Scotchmen  capable 
of  becoming  first-class  mechanics.1 

When  Murdock  called  at  Soho,  in  the  year  1777,  to 
ask  for  a  job,  Watt  was  from  home,  but  he  saw  Boulton, 
who  was  usually  accessible  to  callers  of  every  rank.  In 
answer  to  Murdock's  inquiry  whether  he  could  have  a 
job,  Boulton  replied  that  work  was  rather  slack  with 
them  then,  and  that  every  place  was  filled  up.  During 
the  brief  conversation  that  ensued,  the  blate  young 
Scotchman,  like  most  country  lads  in  the  presence  of 
strangers,  had  some  difficulty  in  knowing  what  to  do 
with  his  hands,  and  unconsciously  kept  twirling  his  hat 
with  them.  Boulton' s  attention  was  directed  to  the 
twirling  hat,  which  seemed  to  be  of  a  peculiar  make.  It 
was  not  a  felt  hat,  nor  a  cloth  hat,  nor  a  glazed  hat ; 
but  it  seemed  to  be  painted,  and  composed  of  some  un- 
usual material.  "  That  seems  to  be  a  curious  sort  of 
hat,"  said  Boulton,  looking  at  it  more  closely  ;  "  why, 
what  is  it  made  of  ?  "  "  Timmer,  sir,"  said  Murdock, 
modestly.  "  Timmer !  Do  you  mean  to  say  that  it  is 
made  of  wood  ?  "  "  Yes,  sir."  "  Pray,  how  was  it  made  ?  " 
"  I  turned  it  mysel',  sir,  in  a  bit  lathey  of  my  own 
making."  Boulton  looked  at  the  young  man  again. 
He  had  risen  a  hundred  degrees  in  his  estimation.  He 
was  tall,  good-looking,  and  of  open  and  ingenuous  coun- 
tenance ;  and  that  he  had  been  able  to  turn  a  wooden 
hat  for  himself  in  a  lathe  of  his  own  making  was  proof 
enough  that  he  was  a  mechanic  of  no  mean  skill.  "  You 

1  Watt  told  Sir  Walter  Scott  that  the  workmen."— Note  to  Lockhart's 
though  hundreds  probably  of  his  '  Life  of  Scott.'  The  fact,  we  suppose 
northern  countrymen  had  sought  em-  j  was,  that  the  Scotch  mechanics  were 
ployment  at  his  establishment,  he  ,  only  as  yet  in  course  of  training, — the 
never  could  get  one  of  them  to  become  a  !  English  having  had  a  long  start  of 
first-rate  mechanic.  "  Many  of  them,"  |  them.  Though  Watt's  statement  that 
said  he,  "  were  too  good  for  that,  and  |  Scotchmen  were  incapable  of  being 
rose  to  be  valuable  clerks  and  book-  !  first-class  mechanics  may  have  been 
keepers ;  but  those  incapable  of  this  true  in  his  day,  it  is  so  no  longer,  as 
sort  of  advancement  had  always  the  the  workshops  of  the  Clyde  can  prove; 
same  insuperable  aversion  to  toiling  so  some  of  the  most  highly  finished 
long  at  any  one  point  of  mechanism  steam-engines  of  modern  times  having 
as  to  gain  the  highest  wages  among  been  turned  out  of  Glasgow  workshops. 


may  call  again,  my  man,"  said  Boultoii.     "  Thank  you, 
sir,"  said  Murdock,  giving  his  hat  a  final  twirl. 

When  Murdock  called  again,  he  was  at  once  put  upon 
a  trial  job,  after  which  he  was  entered  as  a  regular 
hand.  We  learn  from  Boulton's  memorandum-book 
that  he  was  engaged  for  two  years,  at  1 5s.  a  week  when 
at  home,  17.<?.  when  from  home,  and  18s.  when  in  Lon- 
don. Boulton's  engagement  of  Murdock  was  amply 
justified  by  the  result.  Beginning  as  a  common  me- 
chanic, he  applied  himself  diligently  and  conscientiously 
to  his  work,  and  became  trusted.  More  responsible 
duties  were  confided  to  him,  and  he  strove  to  perform 
them  to  the  best  of  his  power.  His  industry  and  his 
skilfulness  soon  marked  him  for  promotion,  and  he  rose 
from  grade  to  grade  until  he  became  Boulton  and  Watt's 
most  trusted  co-worker  and  adviser  in  all  their  mecha- 
nical undertakings  of  importance. 

When  Murdock  went  into  Cornwall  to  take  charge 
of  the  engines,  he  gave  himself  no  rest  until  he  had 
conquered  their  defects  and  put  them  in  thorough 
working  order.  He  devoted  himself  to  his  duties 
with  a  zeal  and  ability  that  completely  won  Watt's 
heart.  He  was  so  filled  with  his  work,  that  when  he 
had  an  important  job  in  hand,  he  could  scarcely  sleep 
at  nights  for  thinking  of  it.  When  the  engine  at 
Wheal  Union  was  ready  for  starting,  the  people  of 
the  house  at  Eedruth,  in  which  Murdock  lodged,  were 
greatly  disturbed  one  night  by  a  strange  noise  in  his 
room.  Several  heavy  blows  on  the  floor  made  them 
start  from  their  beds,  thinking  the  house  was  coming 
down.  They  rushed  to  Murdock's  room,  and  there 
was  he  in  his  shirt,  heaving  away  at  the  bed- 
post in  his  sleep,  calling  out,  "  Now  she  goes,  lads ! 
now  she  goes." 

Murdock  was  not  less  successful  in  making  his 
way  with  the  Cornishmen  with  whom  he  was  brought 
into  daily  contact;  indeed,  he  fought  his  way  to  their 


affections.  One  day  at  Chacewater,  some  half-dozen 
of  the  mining  captains  came  into  the  engine-room  and 
began  bullying  him.  This  he  could  not  stand,  and 
adopted  a  bold  expedient.  He  locked  the  door,  and 
said,  "  Now,  then,  you  shall  not  leave  this  place  until 
I  have  it  fairly  out  with  you."  He  selected  the  biggest, 
and  put  himself  in  a  fighting  attitude.  The  Cornishmen 
love  fair  play,  and  while  the  two  engaged  in  battle,  the 
others,  without  interfering,  looked  on.  The  contest  was 
soon  over ;  for  Murdock  was  a  tall,  powerful  fellow, 
and  speedily  vanquished  his  opponent.  The  others, 
seeing  the  kind  of  man  they  had  to  deal  with,  made 
overtures  of  reconciliation ;  and  they  shook  hands  all 
round,  and  parted  the  best  of  friends.1 

Watt  continued  to  have  his  differences  and  alterca- 
tions with  the  Cornishmen,  but  he  had  no  such  way 
of  settling  them.  Indeed,  he  was  almost  helpless 
when  he  came  in  contact  with  rough  men  of  business. 
Most  of  the  mines  were  then  paying  very  badly,  and 
the  adventurers  raised  all  sorts  of  objections  to  making 
the  stipulated  payment  of  the  engine  dues.  Under  such 
circumstances,  altercations  with  them  took  place  for 
which  Watt  was  altogether  unprepared.  He  was  under 
the  apprehension  that  they  were  constantly  laying  their 
heads  together  for  the  purpose  of  taking  advantage  of 
him  and  his  partner.  He  never  looked  on  the  bright 
side  of  things,  but  always  on  the  darkest.  "  The  ras- 
cality of  mankind,"  said  he  to  Dr.  Black,  "is  almost 
beyond  belief."  Though  his  views  of  science  were  large, 
his  views  of  men  were  narrow.  Much  of  this  may  have 
been  the  result  of  his  recluse  habits  and  closet  life,  as 
well  as  of  his  constant  ill-health.  With  his  racking 

1  The  above  anecdotes,  of  Murdoch's 
introduction  to  Soho,  and  the  fight 
with  the  captains,  were  communicated 
by  his  son,  the  late  Mr.  Murdock  of 
Sycamore  Hill  near  Birmingham.  He 
also  informed  us  that  Murdock  fought 

a  duel  with  Captain  Trevi thick  (father 
of  the  Trevithick  of  Locomotive  cele- 
brity), in  consequence  of  a  quarrel 
between  him  and  Watt,  in  which  Mur- 
dock conceived  his  master  to  have 
been  unfairly  and  harshly  treated. 


headaches,  it  was  indeed  difficult  for  him  to  be  cheerful. 
But  no  one  could  be  more  conscious  of  his  own  defects— 
of  his  want  of  tact,  his  want  of  business  qualities,  and 
his  want  of  temper — than  he  was  himself.  He  knew 
his  besetting  infirmities,  from  which  even  the  best  and 
wisest  are  not  exempt.  His  greatness  was  mingled  with 
imperfections,  and  his  strength  with  weakness,  else  had 
he  been  more  than  human.  It  is  riot  in  the  order  of 
Providence  that  the  gifts  and  graces  of  life  should  be 
concentrated  in  any  one  perfectly  adjusted  character. 
Even  when  we  inquire  into  the  "  Admirable  Crichton  " 
of  biography,  and  seek  to  trace  his  life,  it  vanishes  almost 
into  a  myth. 

In  the  midst  of  his  many  troubles  and  difficulties, 
Watt's  invariable  practice  was  to  call  upon  Boulton  for 
help.  Boulton  was  satisfied  to  take  men  as  he  found 
them,  and  try  to  make  the  best  of  them.  Watt  was  a 
man  of  the  study  ;  Boulton  a  man  of  the  world.  Watt 
was  a  master  of  machines  ;  but  Boulton,  of  men. 
Though  Watt  might  be  the  brain,  Boulton  was  the 
heart  of  the  concern.  "If  you  had  been  here,"  wrote 
Watt  to  Boulton,  after  one  of  his  disagreeable  meetings 
with  the  adventurers,  "  If  you  had  been  here,  and  gone 
to  that  meeting  with  your  cheerful  countenance  and  brave 
heart,  perhaps  they  would  not  have  been  so  obstinate." 
The  scene  referred  to  by  Watt  occurred  at  a  meeting  of 
the  Wheal  Union  Adventurers,  at  which  the  savings 
effected  by  the  new  engine  were  to  be  calculated  and 
settled.  Here  is  Watt's  own  description  of  the  affair, 
and  his  feelings  on  the  occasion,  which  will  give  a  good 
idea  of  the  irksomeness  of  his  position,  and  the  disagree- 
able people  he  had  occasionally  to  encounter : — 

"  At  Wheal  Union  account  our  savings  were  ordered  to  be  charged 
to  the  interest  of  Messrs.  Edwards  and  Phillips;  but  when  to  be 
paid,  God  knows !  Bevan  said  in  a  month.  After  all  this  was 
settled,  in  came  Capt.  Trevithick,  I  believe  on  purpose,  as  he  came 


late  and  might  have  heard  that  I  was  gone  there.  He  immediately 
fell  foul  of  our  account,  in  a  manner  peculiar  to  himself  .  .  .  laboured 
to  demonstrate  that  Dalcoath  engines  not  only  surpassed  the  table, 
but  even  did  more  work  with  the  coals  than  AY  heal  Union  did,  and 
concluded' with  saying  that  we  had  taken  or  got  the  advantage  of 
the  adventurers.  I  think  he  first  said  the  former  and  then  hedged 
off  by  the  latter  statement.  Mr.  Phillips  defended,  and  Mr.  Edwards, 
I  thought,  seemed  staggered,  though  candid.  Mr.  Phillips  desired 
the  data  that  he  might  calculate  it  over  in  his  way.  Mr.  Edwards 
slipped  away,  but  I  found  afterwards  that  he  was  in  another  room 
with  Capt.  Gundry  (who,  and  Hodge  also,  behaved  exceedingly  well 
—I  believe  Gundry  to  be  a  very  sincere,  honest  man).  I  went  out 
to  speak  to  Joseph,  and  on  my  return  found  only  Trevithick,  Be  van, 
Hodge,  and  some  others.  Soon  after,  Mr.  Edwards  called  out 
Trevithick  to  him  and  Gundry.  I  heard  them  very  loud,  and 
waited  their  return  for  an  hour ;  but  they  not  seeming  ready  to  return, 
night  coming  on,  and  feeling  myself  very  uncomfortable,  I  came  away 
— so  know  not  what  passed  further.  During  all  this  time,  I  was  so 
confounded  with  the  impudence,  ignorance,  and  overbearing  manner 
of  the  man  that  I  could  make  no  adequate  defence,  and  indeed  could 
scarcely  keep  my  temper ;  which  however  I  did,  perhaps  to  a  fault ; 
for  nothing  can  be  more  grievous  to  an  ingenuous  mind  than  the 
being  suspected  or  accused  of  deceit.  To  mend  the  matter,  it  had 
been  an  exceedingly  rainy  morning,  and  I  had  got  a  little  wet  going 
thither,  which  had  rather  hurt  my  spirits.  Yesterday  I  had  a 

violent  headache  and  could  do  nothing Some  means  must  be 

taken  to  satisfy  the  country,  otherwise  this  malicious  man  will  hurt 
us  exceedingly.  The  point  on  which  Mr.  Edwards  seemed  to  lay 
the  most  stress  was  the  comparing  with  a  77^  cylinder,  as  he 
alleged  they  would  not  have  put  in  so  large  an  engine ;  and  in  this 
there  is  some  reason,  as  I  do  not  think  they  believed  that  the  engine 
would  be  so  powerful  as  it  is.  Add  to  this,  that  the  mine  barely 
pays  its  way.  Trevithick  made  a  great  noise  about  short  strokes  at 
setting  on,  &c.  The  Captains  seemed  to  laugh  at  that ;  and  I  can 
demonstrate  that,  were  it  allowed  for,  it  would  not  come  to  2s.  6d. 
per  month.  I  believe  they  can  be  brought  to  allow  that  they  would 
have  put  in  a  70-inch.  Now,  query  if  we  ought  to  allow  this  to  be 
calculated  from  a  70  (at  which  it  will  come  to  near  400/.  a  year), 
and  on  making  this  concession  insist  on  our  having  a  good  pay- 
master to  pay  regularly  once  a  month,  and  not  be  obliged  to  go  like 
beggars  to  their  accounts  to  seek  our  due  and  be  insulted  by  such 
scoundrels  into  the  bargain.  As  to  Hallamanin,  they  have  not  met 
yet,  and  when  they  do  meet,  I  shall  not  go  to  them. '  I  cannot  bear 
such  treatment,  but  it  is  not  prudent  to  resent  it  too  warmly  just 
now.  I  believe  you  must  come  here.  I  think  fourteen  days  would 

s  2 




settle  matters.     Besides  my  inability  to  battle  such  people,  I  really 
have  not  time  to  bestow  on  them." l 

In  subsequent  letters  Watt  continued  to  urge  Boulton 
to  come  to  him.  His  headaches  were  constant,  unfitting 
him  for  work.  Besides,  he  could  scarcely  stir  out  of 
doors  for  the  rain.  "  It  rains  here,"  said  he,  "  prodi- 
giously. When  you  come,  bring  with  you  a  waxed 
linen  cloak  for  yourself,  and  another  for  me,  as  there  is 
no  going  out  now  for  a  few  miles  without  getting  wet  to 
the  skin.  When  it  rains  in  Cornwall,  and  it  rains  often, 
it  rains  solid." 

1  Watt  to  Boulton,  from  Chacewatcr,  16th  October,  1779.    Boulton  MSS. 



i:  i— ST.   DAY   IN   THE   M1DDL 
[By  R.  P.   Leitrh] 




BOULTON  again  went  to  Watt's  help  in  Cornwall  at  the 
end  of  autumn,  1779.  He  could  not  afford  to  make  a 
long  stay,  but  left  so  soon  as  he  had  settled  several 
long-pending  agreements  with  the  mine  proprietors. 
The  partners  then  returned  to  Birmingham  together. 
Before  leaving,  they  installed  Lieutenant  Henderson  as 
their  representative,  to  watch  over  their  interests  in 
their  absence.  Henderson  was  a  sort  of  Jack-of-all-trades 
and  master  of  none.  He  had  been  an  officer  of  marines, 
and  afterwards  a  West  India  sugar-planter.  He  lost 
all  that  he  possessed  in  Jamaica,  but  gained  some  know- 
ledge of  levelling,  draining,  and  machinery.  He  was 
also  a  bit  of  an  inventor,  and  first  introduced  himself 
to  Boulton's  notice  by  offering  to  sell  him  a  circular 




motion  by  steam  which  he  alleged  he  had  discovered. 
This  led  to  a  correspondence,  which  resulted  in  his  en- 
gagement to  travel  for  the  firm,  and  to  superintend  the 
erection  of  engines  when  necessary. 

Henderson  experienced  the  same  difficulty  that  Watt 
had  done  in  managing  the  adventurers,  and  during  his 
stay  in  Cornwall  he  was  never  done  calling  upon  Boulton 
to  hasten  to  his  assistance  and  help  him,  as  he  said,  "  to 
put  them  in  good  spirits  and  good  temper."  As  the 
annual  meetings  drew  near,  Henderson  anticipated  a 
stormy  time  of  it,  and  pleaded  harder  than  ever  for 
Boulton  to  come  to  him.  It  seemed  as  if  it  would  be 
necessary  for  Boulton  to  take  up  his  residence  in  Corn- 
wall ;  and  as  the  interests  at  stake  were  great,  it  might 
be  worth  his  while  to  do  so.  By  the  summer  of  1780, 
Boulton  and  Watt  had  made  and  sold  forty  pumping- 
engines,  of  which  number  twenty  were  erected  and  at 
work  in  different  parts  of  Cornwall ;  and  it  was  gene- 
rally expected  that  before  long  there  would  scarcely  be 
an  engine  of  the  old  construction  at  work  in  the  county. 
This  was,  in  fact,  the  only  branch  of  Boulton's  extensive 
concerns  that  promised  to  be  remunerative.1  He  had 
become  loaded  with  a  burden  of  debt,  from  which  the 
success  of  the  engine-business  seemed  to  offer  the  only 
prospect  of  relief. 

Boulton's  affairs  seemed  indeed  fast  approaching  to  a 
crisis.  He  had.  raised  money  in  all  directions  to  carry 
on  his  extensive  concerns.  He  had  sold  the  Patkington 
estate,  which  came  to  him  by  his  wife,  to  Lord  Donegal, 
for  15,OOQ/. ;  he  had  sold  the  greater  part  of  his  father's 
property,  and  raised  further  sums  by  mortgaging  the 
remainder ;  he  had  borrowed  largely  from  Day,2  Wedg- 

1  It  appears  from  a  statement  pre- 
pared by  Zaccheus  Walker,  the  ac- 
countant of  Boulton  and  Fothergill, 
that  on  an  invested  capital  of  about 
20,0001.,  the  excess  of  losses  over 
profits  during  the  eighteen  years 

ending  1780,  had  been  upwards  of 
11,000?. ;  and  that  but  for  the  capital 
and  credit  of  Matthew  Boulton,  that 
concern  must  have  broken  down. 

2  Thomas   Day,  the   eccentric   but 
kindly    author     of     '  Sandford     and 




wood,  and  others  of  his  personal  friends,  and  obtained 
heavy  advances  from  his  bankers ;  but  all  this  was  found 
insufficient,  and  his  embarrassments  seemed  only  to  in- 
crease. Watt  could  do  nothing  to  help  him  with  money, 
though  he  had  consented  to  the  mortgage  of  the  steam- 
engine  royalties  to  Mr.  Wiss,  by  which  the  sum  of  7000^. 
had  been  raised.  This  liability  lay  heavy  on  the  mind 
of  Watt,  who  could  never  shake  himself  free  of  the 
horror  of  having  incurred  such  a  debt ;  and  many  were 
the  imploring  letters  that  he  addressed  to  Boulton  on 
the  subject.  "I  beg  of  you,"  said  he,  "to  attend  to 
these  money  affairs.  I  cannot  rest  in  my  bed  until  they 
[i.e.  the  mortgage  and  banker's  advance]  have  some 
determinate  form.  I  beg  you  will  pardon  my  impor- 
tunity, but  I  cannot  bear  the  uneasiness  of  my  own 
mind,  and  it  is  as  much  your  interest  as  mine  to  have 
them  settled."1 

The  other  partner,  Fothergill,  was  quite  as  down- 
hearted. He  urged  that  the  firm  of  Boulton  and 
Fothergill  should  at  once  stop  payment  and  wind  up ; 
but  as  this  would  have  seriously  hurt  the  credit  of  the 
engine  firm,  Boulton  would  not  listen  to  the  suggestion. 
They  must  hold  on  as  they  had  done  before,  until  better 
days  came  round.  Fothergill  recommended  that  at  least 
the  unremunerative  branches  of  the  business  should  be 

Merton,'  lent  Boulton  3000Z.  at  4  per 
cent.  When  Boulton  came  to  pay  a 
higher  rate  of  interest  on  other  loans, 
he  wrote  Day  proposing  to  pay  him 
the  same  rate;  but  Day  refused  to 
accept  the  advance,  as  he  could  not 
make  more  of  his  money  elsewhere. 
Day,  however,  offered  him  some  good 
advice.  "  Give  me  leave,"  said  he, 
"  with  the  real  interest  of  a  sincere 
friend,  to  express  my  wishes  that  now 
at  last  when  a  fortune  is  within  your 
power,  you  will  contract  that  wide 
sphere  of  business  in  which  your  in- 
genuity has  so  long  kept  you  engaged, 
and  which  has  prevented  you  hitherto, 
if  I  mav  believe  the  words  of  one  of 

your  sincerest  friends,  the  late  Dr. 
Small,  from  acquiring  that  independ- 
ence which  you  ought  to  have  had  long 
ago.  I  should  think  that  now,  like  a 
good  Christian,  thoroughly  convinced 
of  the  inutility  of  other  works,  you 
ought  to  attach  yourself  to  the  one 
thing  needful,  and  determine  to  be 
saved  '  even  as  by  fire.'  You  are  now, 
dear  Sir,  not  of  an  age  to  sport  any 
longer  with  fortune.  Forgive  the 
freedom  of  these  sentiments,  and 
believe  me,  with  the  greatest  sincerity 
and  regard,  Yours,  &c., 


1  Watt  to  Boulton,  20th  January, 




brought  to  a  close.  The  heaviest  losses  had  indeed  been 
sustained  through  Fothergill  himself,  whose  foreign 
connexions,  instead  of  being  of  advantage  to  the  firm, 
had  proved  the  reverse  ;  and  Mr.  Matthews,  the  London 
agent,  repeatedly  pressed  Boulton  to  decline  further 
transactions  with  foreigners. 

There  was  one  branch  of  the  Boulton  and  Fothergill 
business  which  Boulton  at  once  agreed  to  give  up. 
This  was  the  painting  and  japanning  business ;  by 
which,  as  appears  from  a  statement  prepared  by  Mr. 
Walker,  now  before  us,  the  firm  were  losing  at  the  rate 
of  500/.  a  year. 

The  picture-painting  business  seems  to  have  been 
begun  in  1777,  and  was  carried  on  for  some  years  under 
the  direction  of  Mr.  Eginton,  who  afterwards  achieved 
considerable  reputation  at  Birmingham  as  a  manufac- 
turer of  painted  glass.  A  degree  of  interest  has  been 
recently  raised  on  the  subject  of  the  Soho  pictures, 
in  consequence  of  the  statements  hazarded  as  to  the 
method  by  which  they  are  supposed  to  have  been  pro- 
duced. It  has  been  surmised  that  they  were  taken  by 
some  process  resembling  photography.  We  have,  how- 
ever, been  unable  to  find  anything  in  the  correspond- 
ence of  the  firm  calculated  to  support  this  view.  On 
the  contrary,  they  are  invariably  spoken  of  as  "  mecha- 
nical paintings,"  "  pictures,"  or  "  prints,"  produced  by 
means  of  "  paints  "  or  "  colours."  Though  the  precise 
process  by  which  they  were  produced  is  not  now  known, 
there  seems  reason  to  believe  that  they  were  impressions 
from  plates  prepared  in  a  peculiar  manner.  The  im- 
pressions were  taken  "  mechanically "  on  paper  ;  and 
both  oil  and  water  colours1  were  made  use  of.  Some 

1  Some  of  the  specimens  in  water 
colour  are  to  be  seen  at  the  Museum 
of  Patents,  South  Kensington.  When 
the  paper  is  moistened  with  the  finger, 
the  colour  easily  rubs  off.  The  whole 
subject  of  these  pictures  has  recently 

been  thoroughly  sifted  by  M.  P.  W. 
Boulton,  Esq.,  in  his  '  Bemarks  on 
some  Evidence  recently  communicated 
to  the  Photographic  Society'  (Brad- 
bury and  Evans,  1864),  apropos  of  the 
Papers  of  Mr.  W.  P.  Smith  on  the 


of  the  pictures  were  of  large  size — 40  by  50  inches — the 
subjects  being  chiefly  classical.  This  branch  of  the  busi- 
ness being  found  unproductive,  was  brought  to  a  close 
in  1780,  when  the  partnership  with  Eginton  was  at  the 
same  time  dissolved. 

Another  and  more  fortunate  branch  of  business  into 
which  Boulton  entered  with  Watt  and  Keir,  about  the 
same  time,  was  the  manufacture  of  letter-copying  ma- 
chines. Watt  made  the  invention,  Boulton  found  the 
money  for  taking  out  the  patent,  and  Keir  conducted 
the  business.  Watt  was  a  very  voluminous  correspondent, 
and  the  time  occupied  by  him  in  copying  letters,  the 
contents  of  which  he  desired  to  keep  secret  from  third 
parties,  was  such  that  in  order  to  economise  it  he 
invented  the  method  of  letter-copying  in  such  com- 
mon use.  The  invention  consisted  in  the  transfer,  by 
pressure,  of  the  writing  made  with  mucilaginous  ink, 
to  damped  and  unsized  transparent  copying-paper,  by 
means  either  of  a  rolling  press  or  a  screw  press.  Though 
Watt  himself  preferred  the  rollers,  the  screw  press  is 
now  generally  adopted  as  the  more  simple  and  effica- 
cious process. 

This  invention  was  made  by  Watt  in  the  summer  of 
1778.  In  June  we  find  him  busy  experimenting  on 
copying-papers  of  different  kinds,  requesting  Boulton  to 
send  him  specimens  of  "  the  most  even  and  whitest  un- 
sized paper ;"  and  in  the  following  month  he  wrote 
Dr.  Black,  "I  have  lately  discovered  a  method  of 

same  subject,  in  which  it  was  sur- 
mised that  they  were  the  result  of  some 
photographic  process.  Mr.  Boulton 
clearly  shows,  from  the  original  corre- 
spondence, that  the  process  was  me- 

pressed  to  other  persons,  that  in  the 
coloured  specimens  in  the  Museum, 
there  are  indications  that  the  colour 
was  laid  on  mechanically, — not  by 
hand  or  brush."  As  the  process  of 

chanical    colour  -  printing.     He    also  I  "  dead-colouring  "  the  pictures  is  occa- 
adds, — "  From   the    brief  statements    sionally  referred  to,  it  is  probable  that 

which  I  remember  to  have  heard  from 
my  father  concerning  the  polygraphic 
process,  my  impression  of  it  was  that 
it  copied  colour  mechanically,  not 
merely  chiaro-scuro.  And  I  agree 
with  the  opinion  which  has  been  ex- 

the  pictures  passed  through  more 
stages  than  one,  as  in  the  case  of 
modern  colour-printing.  In  one  of 
Eginton's  letters,  three  plates  were 
spoken  of  as  necessary  for  taking  im- 
pressions of  one  of  the  pictures. 


copying  writing  instantaneously,  provided  it  has  been 
written  the  same  day,  or  within  twenty-four  hours. 
I  send  you  a  specimen,  and  will  impart  the  secret  if 
it  will  be  of  any  use  to  you.  It  enables  me  to  copy 
all  my  business  letters."1  For  two  years  Watt  kept 
his  method  of  copying  a  secret ;  but  hearing  that 
certain  persons  were  prying  into  it  with  the  view  of 
turning  it  to  account,  he  determined  to  anticipate  them 
by  taking  out  a  patent,  which  was  secured  in  May, 
1780.  By  that  time  Watt  had  completed  the  details 
of  the  press  and  the  copying-ink.  Sufficient  mahogany 
and  lignum-vitee  had  been  ordered  for  making  500 
machines,  and  Boulton  went  up  to  London  to  try  and 
get  the  press  introduced  in  the  public  offices.  He  first 
waited  upon  several  noblemen  to  interest  them  in  the 
machine,  amongst  others  on  Lord  Dartmouth,  who  pro- 
posed to  show  it  to  George  III.  "  The  King,"  said 
Boulton,  in  a  letter  to  Watt,  "  writes  a  great  deal,  and 
takes  copies  of  all  he  writes  with  his  own  hand,  so  that 
Lord  Dartmouth  thinks  it  will  be  a  very  desirable  thing 
for  His  Majesty."  Several  of  those  to  whom  the  machine 
was  first  shown,  apprehended  that  it  would  lead  to  in- 
crease of  forgery — then  a  great  source  of  terror  to  com- 
mercial men.  The  bankers  concurred  in  this  view,  and 
strongly  denounced  the  invention  ;  and  they  expostu- 
lated with  Boulton  and  Watt's  agent  for  offering  the 
presses  for  sale.  "  Mr.  Woodmason,"  wrote  Boulton, 
"  says  the  bankers  mob  him  for  having  anything  to  do 
with  it ;  they  say  that  it  ought  to  be  suppressed." 
Boulton  was  not  dismayed  by  this  opposition,  but  pro- 
ceeded to  issue  circulars  to  the  members  of  the  Houses 
of  Lords  and  Commons,  descriptive  of  the  machine, 
inviting  them  to  an  inspection  of  it,  after  which  he 
communicated  the  results  to  his  partner  :— 

....  "On  Tuesday  morning  last  I  waited  on  some  particular 
noblemen,  according  to  promise,  at  their  own  houses,  with  the  press, 

Watt  to  Dr.  Black,  24th  July,  1778. 


and  at  one  o'clock  I  took  possession  of  a  private  room  adjoining  the 
Court  of  Bequests,  Westminster  Hall,  where  I  was  visited  by  several 
members  of  both  Houses,  who  in  general  were  well  pleased  with  the 
invention ;  but  all  expressed  their  fears  of  forgery,  which  occasioned 
and  obliged  me  to  exercise  my  lungs  very  much.  Many  of  the 
members  tried  to  copy  bank  notes,  but  in  vain.  I  had  a  full 
audience  till  half-past  eight  o'clock.  ...  I  had  quite  a  mob  of 
members  next  day ;  some  of  them  mobbed  me  for  introducing  such 
wicked  arts ;  however,  upon  the  whole,  I  had  a  greater  majority 
than  Lord  North  hath  had  this  year. 

On  Thursday  ...  at  half-past  two  .  .  I  had  a  tolerable  good 
House,  even  a  better  than  the  Speaker,  who  was  often  obliged  to 
send  his  proper  officer  to  fetch  away  from  me  the  members  to  vote, 
and  sometimes  to  make  a  House.  As  soon  as  the  House  formed  into 
a  Committee  upon  the  Malt-tax,  the  Speaker  left  the  chair  and  sent 
for  me  and  the  machine,  which  was  carried  through  the  gallery  in 
face  of  the  whole  House  into  the  Speaker's  Chamber.  I  found  him 
full  of  fears  about  the  dreadful  consequences,  which  I  quieted  before 
I  left  him,  and  he  with  his  two  friends  subscribed.  I  attended  again 
on  Friday,  but,  from  a  very  thin  House  and  curiosity  abating,  I  had 
very  few  [subscriptions].  Mr.  Banks  came  to  see  the  machine  on 
Thursday.  I  thought  it  might  be  of  service  to  show  it  to  the  Eoyal 
Society  that  evening.  .  .  .  After  the  business  of  the  Society  was  over, 
he  announced  Mr.  Watt's  invention,  and  my  readiness  to  show  it, 
and  it  was  accordingly  brought  in  and  afforded  much  satisfaction  to 
a  crowded  audience.  I  did  not  show  the  list  of  subscribers  and  the 
proposals,  nor  dishonour  philosophy  by  trade  in  that  room.  .  .  . 
I  spent  Friday  evening  with  Smeaton  and  other  engineers  at  a 
coffee-house,  when  a  gentleman  (not  knowing  me)  exclaimed  against 
the  copying-machine,  and  wished  the  inventor  was  hanged  and  the 
machines  all  burnt,  which  brought  on  a  laugh;  as  I  was  known  to 
most  present.  .  .  .  There  are  great  names  enough  already  among 
the  subscribers  to  give  a  sanction  and  authority  to  it,  as  well  as  to 
make  it  fashionable,  which  has  more  influence  upon  the  minds 
of  three-fourths  of  the  Londoners  than  the  intrinsic  merit  of  the 
thing,  and  without  which  it  would  have  been  some  years  in  making 
its  way." ' 

By  the  end  of  the  year,  the  150  machines  first  made 
were  sold  off,  and  more  orders  were  coming  in.  Thirty 
were  wanted  for  exportation  abroad,  and  a  still  greater 
number  were  wanted  at  home.  The  letter-copying  ma- 
chine gradually  and  steadily  made  its  way,  until  at 
length  •  there  was  scarcely  a  house  of  any  extensive 

1  Boulton  to  Watt,  14th  May,  1780.     Boulton  MSS. 




business  transactions  in  which  it  was  not  to  be.  found. 
Watt  himself,  writing  of  the  invention  some  thirty  years 
later,  observed  that  it  had  proved  so  useful  to  himself  that 
it  had  been  worth  all  the  trouble  of  inventing  it,  even  had 
it  been  attended  with  no  pecuniary  profit  whatever. 

Boulton' s  principal  business,  however,  while  in  town, 
was  not  so  much  to  push  the  letter-copying  machine,  but 
to  set  straight  the  bankers'  account,  which  had  been 
overdrawn  to  the  amount  of  17, GOO/.  He  was  able  to 
satisfy  them  to  a  certain  extent  by  granting  mortgages 
on  the  engine  royalties  payable  in  Cornwall,  besides 
giving  personal  bonds  for  repayment  of  the  advances 
within  a  given  time.  It  was  necessary  to  obtain  Watt's 
consent  to  both  these  measures ;  but,  though  Watt  was 
willing  to  agree  to  the  former  expedient,  he  positively 
refused  to  be  a  party  to  the  personal  bonds.1  Boulton 
was  therefore  under  the  necessity  of  arranging  the 
matter  himself.  He  was  thereby  enabled  to  meet  the 
more  pressing  claims  upon  the  firm,  and  to  make 
arrangements  for  pushing  on  the  engine  business  with 
renewed  vigour.  Watt  was,  however,  by  no  means  so 
anxious  on  this  score  as  Boulton  was.  He  was  even 
desirous  of  retiring  from  the  concern,  and  going  abroad 
in  search  of  health.  "  Without  I  can  spare  time 
this  next  summer,"  he  wrote,  "  to  go  to  some  more 
healthy  climate  to  procure  a  little  health,  if  climate 
will  do,  I  must  give  up  business  and  the  world  too. 
My  head  is  good  for  nothing."2  While  Boulton  was 
earnestly  pressing  the  invention  on  the  mining  interest, 

1  On  the  18th  May,  1780,  Watt 
wrote  Boulton,  then  in  London,  as 
follows : — "  I  am  sorry,  my  dear  Sir, 
to  prove  in  any  shape  refractory  to 
what  you  desire,  but  my  quiet,  my 
peace  of  mind,  perhaps  my  very  exist- 
ence, depend  on  what  I  have  told  you. 
I  am  unhappy  in  not  having  any 
person  I  can  advise  with  on  this 
subject ;  and  my  own  knowledge  of  it 
is  insufficient.  Therefore,  if  1  appear 

too  rigid,  do  not  blame  me,  but  my 
ignorance  and  timidity."  And  again, 
on  the  19th,. on  returning  the  draft 
mortgage,  he  wrote: — "If  my  exe- 
cuting this  deed  cannot  be  dispensed 
with,  I  will  do  it,  but  will  not  execute 
any  personal  bond  for  the  money.  I 
would  rather  assign  you  all  Cornwall 
on  proper  conditions  than  execute 


Watt  to  Boulton,  llth  April,  1780. 


and  pushing  for  orders,  Watt  shuddered  at  the  prospect 
of  one.  He  saw  in  increase  of  business  only  increase  of 
headaches.  "  The  care  and  attention  which  our  business 
requires,"  said  he,  "  make  me  at  present  dread  a  fresh 
order  with  as  much  horror  as  other  people  with  joy 
receive  one.  What  signifies  it  to  a  man  though  he 
gain  the  whole  world,  if  he  lose  his  health  and  his  life  ? 
The  first  of  these  losses  has  already  befallen  me,  and 
the  second  will  probably  be  the  consequence  of  it,  with- 
out some  favourable  circumstances  which  at  present  I 
cannot  foresee  should  prevent  it." 

Judging  by  the  correspondence  of  Watt,  his  sufferings 
of  mind  and  body  at  this  time  must  have  been  excessive  ; 
and  the  wonder  is  how  he  lived  through  it.  But  "  the 
creaking  gate  hangs  long  on  its  hinges,"  and  he  lived  to 
the  age  of  eighty-three,  long  surviving  his  stronger  and 
more  courageous  partner.  Intense  headache  seemed  to 
be  his  normal  state,  and  his  only  tolerable  moments 
were  those  in  which  the  headache  was  less  violent  than 
usual.  His  son  has  since  described  how  he  remembered 
seeing  his  father  about  this  time,  sitting  by  the  fireside 
for  hours  together,  with  his  head  leaning  on  his  elbow, 
suffering  from  most  acute  sick-headaches,  and  scarcely 
able  to  give  utterance  to  his  thoughts.  "  My  headache," 
he  would  write  to  Boulton,  "  keeps  its  week-aversary 
to-day."  At  another  time,  "  I  am  plagued  with  the 
blues ;  my  head  is  too  much  confused  to  do  any  brain- 
work."  Once,  when  he  had  engaged  to  accompany  his 
wife  to  an  evening  concert,  he  wrote,  "I  am  quite  eat 
up  with  the  mulligrubs,  and  to  complete  the  matter  I 
am  obliged  to  go  to  an  oratorio,  or  serenata,  or  some 
other  nonsense,  to-night."  Mrs.  Watt  tried  her  best  to 
draw  him  out  of  himself,  but  it  was  not  often  that  she 
could  divert  him  from  his  misery.  What  relieved  him 
most  was  sleep,  when  he  could  obtain  it ;  and,  to  recruit 
his  powers,  he  was  accustomed  to  take  from  nine  to 
eleven  hours  sleep  at  night,  besides  naps  during  the 


day.  When  Boulton  had  erysipelas,  in  Cornwall,  and 
could  not  stir  abroad,  he  wrote  to  his  partner  com- 
plaining of  an  unusual  lowness  of  spirits,  on  which 
Watt  undertook  to  be  his  comforter  in  his  own  peculiar 
way.  "  There  is  no  pitch  of  low  spirits,"  said  he, 
"  that  I  have  not  a  perfect  notion  of,  from  hanging 
melancholy  to  peevish  melancholy  :  conquer  the  devil 
when  he  is  young."  Watt  experienced  all  the  tortures 
of  confirmed  dyspepsia,  which  cast  its  dark  shadow  over 
the  life  of  every  day.  His  condition  was  often  most 
pitiable.  It  is  true,  many  of  the  troubles  which  beset 
him  were  imaginary,  but  he  suffered  from  them  in  idea 
as  much  as  if  they  had  been  real.  Small  evils  fretted 
him,  and  great  ones  overwhelmed  him.  He  met  them 
all  more  than  halfway,  and  usually  anticipated  the 
worst.  He  had  few  moments  of  cheerfulness,  hopeful- 
ness, or  repose.  Speaking  of  one  of  his  violent  head- 
aches, he  said,  "  I  believe  it  was  caused  by  something 
making  my  stomach  very  acid ;"  and  unhappily,  as 
in  the  case  of  most  dyspeptics,  the  acidity  communicated 
itself  to  his  temper.  When  these  fits  came  upon  him, 
and  the  world  was  going  against  him,  and  ruin  seemed 
about  to  swallow  him  up  quick,  he  would  sit  down  and 
pen  a  long  gloomy  letter  to  his  partner,  full  of  agony 
and  despair.  His  mental  condition  at  the  time  shows  at 
what  expense  of  suffering  in  mind  and  body  the  tri- 
umphs of  genius  are  sometimes  achieved. 

In  the  autumn  of  1780,  Boulton  went  into  Cornwall 
for  a  time  to  look  after  the  business  there.  Several  new 
engines  had  been  ordered,  and  were  either  erected  or 
in  progress,  at  Wheal  Treasury,  Tresavean,  Penrydee, 
Dalcoath,  Wheal  Chance,  Wheal  Crenver,  and  the  United 
Mines.  One  of  the  principal  objects  of  his  visit  was  to 
settle  the  agreements  with  the  mining  companies  for  the 
use  of  these  engines. 

It  had  been  found  difficult  to  estimate  the  actual  savings 
of  fuel,  and  the  settlement  of  the  accounts  was  a  con- 




stant  source  of  cavil.  There  was  so  much  temptation 
on  the  one  side  to  evade  the  payments  according  to  the 
tables  prepared  by  Watt,  and  so  much  occasion  for  sus- 
picion on  the  other  that  they  had  been  evaded  by  unfair 
means,  that  it  appeared  to  Boulton  that  the  only  prac- 
ticable method  was  to  agree  to  a  fixed  annual  payment 
for  each  engine  erected,  according  to  its  power  and  the 
work  it  performed.  Watt  was  very  averse  to  giving  up 
the  tables  which  had  cost  him  so  much  labour  to  prepare  ; 
but  Boulton  more  wisely  urged  the  adoption  of  the  plan 
that  would  work  most  smoothly,  and  get  rid  of  the 
heartburnings  on  both  sides.  Boulton  accordingly  sent 
down  to  Watt  a-  draft  agreement  with  the  Wheal  Virgin 
adventurers,  who  were  prepared  to  pay  the  large  sum 
of  2500/.  a  year  in  respect  of  five  new  engines  erected 
for  their  firm ;  and  urged  him  to  agree  to  the  terms. 
"  You  must  not  be  too  rigid,"  said  he,  "  in  fixing  the 
dates  of  payment.  A  hard  bargain  is  a  bad  bargain." 
Watt  replied  in  a  long  letter,  urging  the  accuracy  of 
his  tables,  and  intimating  his  reluctance  to  depart  from 
them.  To  this  Boulton  responded,  "  Now,  my  dear  Sir, 
the  way  to  do  justice  to  our  own  characters,  and  to 
trample  under  our  feet  envy,  hatred,  and  malice,  is  to 
dispel  the  doubts,  and  to  clear  up  the  minds  of  the 
gentlemanly  part  of  this  our  best  of  all  kingdoms ;  for 
if  they  think  we  do  wrong,  it  operates  against  us 
although  we  do  none,  just  as  much  as  if  we  really  did 
the  wrong.  Patience  and  candour  should  mark  all  our 
actions,  as  well  as  firmness  in  being  just  to  ourselves 
and  others.  A  fair  character  and  standing  with  the 
people  is  attended  with  great  advantage  as  well  as  satis- 
faction, of  which  you  are  fully  sensible,  so  I  need  say 

no  more. 

1  Boulton,  at  Plengwarry,  to  Watt, 
at  Birmingham,  14th  September,  1780. 
This  day  was  Boulton's  birthday,  and 
alluding  to  the  circumstance  he  wrote, 
— "  As  sure  as  there  are  1728  inches 

in  a  cubic  foot,  so  sure  was  I  born  in 
that  year;  and  as  sure  as  there  are 
52  weeks  in  the  year  and  52  cards  in 
the  pack,  so  surely  am  I  52  years  old 
this  very  day.  May  you  and  Mrs. 


Watt  did  not  give  up  his  favourite  tables  without 
further  expostulation  and  argument,  but  at  length  he 
reluctantly  gave  his  assent  to  the  Wheal  Yirgin  agree- 
ment, by  which  the  annual  payment  of  2500/.  was 
secured.  Though  this  was  really  an  excellent  bargain, 
Watt  seemed  to  regard  it  in  the  light  of  a  calamity. 
In  the  letter  intimating  his  reluctant  concurrence,  he 
observed:  "These  disputes  are  so  very  disagreeable  to 
me,  that  I  am  very  sorry  I  ever  bestowed  so  great  a 
part  of  my  time  and  money  on  the  steam-engine.  I  can 
bear  with  the  artifices  of  the  designing  part  of  mankind, 
but  having  myself  no  intention  to  deceive  others,  I 
cannot  brook  the  suspicions  of  the  honest  part,  which 
I  am  conscious  I  never  merited  even  in  intention,  far 
less  by  any  actual  attempt  to  deceive/'1  Two  days  later 
Watt  again  wrote,  urging  the  superiority  of  his  tables, 
concluding  thus:  "I  have  been  so  much  molested  with 
headaches  this  week,  that  I  have  perhaps  written  in  a 
more  peevish  strain  than  I  should  have  done  if  I  had 
been  in  better  health,  which  I  hope  you  will  excuse." 
Boulton  replied,  expressing  regret  at  his  lowness  of 
spirits  and  bad  health,  advising  him  to  cheer  up.  "  At 
your  leisure,"  said  he,  "  you  may  amuse  yourself  with  a 
calculation  of  what  all  the  engines  we  shall  have  in 
eighteen  months  erected  in  Cornwall  will  amount  to; 
you  will  find  it  good  for  low  spirits."  "I  assure  you," 
he  said  at  another  time,  "you  have  no  cause  for  appre- 
hension as  to  anything  in  this  country;  all  is  going  on 
well."  Boulton  seemed  to  regard  his  partner  in  the 
light  of  a  permanent  invalid,  which  he  was;  and  on 
writing  to  his  various  correspondents  on  matters  of 
business  at  Soho,  he  would  abjure  them  not  to  cross 
Mr.  Watt.  To  Fothergill  he  wrote  respecting  the 
execution  of  an  order,  "the  matter  must  be  managed 

Watt   live    very   long    and    be   very  I      1  Watt  to  Boulton,  10th   October, 
happy."  |  1780.     Boulton  MSS. 


with  some  delicacy  respecting  Mr.  Watt,  as  you  know 
that  when  he  is  low-spirited  he  is  vexed  at  trifles." 

Another  important  part  of  Boulton's  business  in 
Cornwall,  besides  settling  the  engine  agreement,  was 
to  watch  the  mining  adventures  themselves,  in  which 
by  this  time  Boulton  and  Watt  had  become  largely 
interested.  In  the  then  depressed  state  of  the  mining 
interest,  it  was  in  many  cases  found  difficult  to  raise 
the  requisite  money  to  pay  for  the  new  engines ;  and  the 
engineers  must  either  go  without  orders  or  become 
shareholders  to  prevent  the  undertakings  dropping 
through  altogether.  Watt's  caution  impelled  him  at 
first  to  decline  entering  into  such  speculations.  He 
was  already  in  despair  at  what  he  considered  the  bad 
fortunes  of  the  firm,  and  the  load  of  debts  they  had 
incurred  in  carrying  on  the  manufacture  of  engines. 
But  there  seemed  to  be  no  alternative,  and  he  at  length 
came  to  the  conclusion  with  Boulton,  that  it  was  better 
"  not  to  lose  a  sheep  for  a  ha'porth  of  tar." 1 

Rather  than  lose  the  orders,  therefore,  or  risk  the 
losses  involved  by  the  closing  of  the  mines  worked  by 
their  engines,  the  partners  resolved  to  incur  the  risk  of 
joining  in  the  adventures,  and  in  course  of  time  they 
became  largely  interested  in  them.  They  also  induced 
friends  in  the  North  to  join  them,  more  particularly 
Josiah  Wedgwood  and  John  Wilkinson,  who  took 
shares  to  a  large  amount. 

Boulton  now  made  it  his  business  to  attend  the 
meetings  of  the  adventurers,  in  the  hope  of  improving 
their  working  arrangements,  which  he  believed  were 
very  imperfect.  He  was  convinced  of  this  after  his  first 
meeting  with  the  adventurers  of  the  Wheal  Virgin 
mine.  He  found  their  proceedings  conducted  without 
regard  to  order.  The  principal  attention  was  paid  to 
the  dining,  and  after  dinner  and  drink  little  real 

1  Watt  to  Boulton,  20th  April,  1780. 



business  could  be  done.  No  minutes  were  made  of  the 
proceedings ;  half  the  company  were  talking  at  the  same 
time  on  different  subjects;  no  one  took  the  lead  in  con- 
ducting the  discussions,  which  were  disorderly  and 
anarchical  in  the  extreme.  Boulton  immediately  ad- 
dressed himself  to  the  work  of  introducing  order  and 
despatch.  He  called  upon  his  brother  adventurers  to  do 
their  business  first,  and  dine  and  talk  afterwards.  He 
advised  them  to  procure  a  minute-book  in  which  to  enter 
the  resolutions  and  proceedings.  His  clear-headed 
suggestions  were  at  once  agreed  to ;  and  the  next  meet- 
ing, for  which  he  prepared  the  agenda,  was  so  entirely 
different  from  all  that  had  preceded  -it,  in  respect  of 
order,  regularity,  and  the  business  transacted,  that  his 
influence  with  the  adventurers  was  at  once  established. 
"The  business,"  he  wrote  to  Watt,  "was  conducted  with 
more  regularity,  and  more  of  it  was  done,  than  was 
ever  known  at  any  previous  meeting."  He  perceived, 
however,  that  there  was  still  room  for  great  improve- 
ments, and  added,  "  somebody  must  be  here  all  next 
summer.  .  .  I  shall  be  here  myself  the  greater  part  of 
it,  for  there  will  want  more  kicking  than  you  can  do. 
...  Grace  au  Dieu !  I  neither  want  health,  nor  spirits, 
nor  even  flesh,  for  I  grow  fat." l 

To  increase  his  influence  among  the  adventurers,  and 
secure  the  advantages  of  a  local  habitation  among  them, 
Boulton  deemed  it  necessary  to  take  a  mansion  capable 
of  accommodating  his  family,  and  which  should  serve 
the  same  purpose  for  his  partner  when  sojourning 
in  the  neighbourhood.  Boulton's  first  idea  was  to  have  a 
portable  wooden  house  built  and  fitted  up  in  the  manner 
of  a  ship's  cabin,  which  might  readily  be  taken  to  pieces 
and  moved  from  place  to  place  as  business  required. 
This  plan  was,  however,  eventually  abandoned  in  favour 
of  a  residence  of  a  more  fixed  kind.  After  much  search- 

1  Boulton  to  Watt,  25th  and  30th  September,  1780.     Boulton  MSS. 




ing,  a  house  was  found  which  promised  to  answer  the  in- 
tended purpose, — an  old-fashioned,  roomy  mansion,  with 
a  good-sized  garden  full  of  fruit  trees,  prettily  situated 
at  Cosgarne,  in  the  Grwennap  valley.  Though  the 
United  Mines  district  was  close  at  hand,  and  fourteen 
of  Boulton  and  Watt's  engines  were  at  work  in  the 
immediate  neighbourhood,  not  an  engine  chimney  was 
to  be  seen  from  the  house,  which  overlooked  Tresamble 
Common,  then  an  unenclosed  moor.  Here  the  partners 
by  turns  spend  much  of  their  time  for  several  successive 
years,  travelling  about  from  thence  on  horseback  from 
mine  to  mine  to  superintend  the  erection  and  working 
of  their  engines. 


By  this  time  the  old  Newcomen  engines  had  been 
almost  completely  superseded,  only  one  of  that  construc- 
tion remaining  at  work  in  the  whole  county  of  Cornwall. 
The  prospects  of  the  engine  business  were,  indeed,  so 
promising,  that  Boulton  even  contemplated  retiring  alto- 
gether from  his  other  branches  of  business  at  Soho,  and 
settling  himself  permanently  in  Cornwall.1 

His  partner  Fothergill  would  not, 

and  the  Soho  business  was  continued 

however,  consent   to  let  Boulton  go,     until  the  death  of  Fothergill  (bank- 

T    2 


Notwithstanding  the  great  demand  for  engines,  the 
firm  continued  for  some  time  in  serious  straits  for  money, 
and  Boultori  was  under  the  necessity  of  resorting  to 
all  manner  of  expedients  to  raise  it,  sometimes  with 
Watt's  concurrence,  but  oftener  without.  Watt's  inex- 
perience in  money  matters,  conjoined  with  his  extreme 
timidity  and  nervousness,  made  him  apprehend  ruin  ;m<l 
bankruptcy  from  every  fresh  proposition  made  to  him 
on  the  subject  of  raising  money.  He  was  kept  so 
utterly  wretched  by  his  fears  as  to  be  on  occasions  quite 
unmanned,  and  he  would  brood  for  days  together  on  the 
accumulation  of  misery  and  anxiety  which  his  great 
invention  had  brought  upon  him.  His  wife  was  kept 
almost  as  miserable  as  himself,  and  as  Matthew  Boulton 
was  the  only  person,  in  her  opinion,  who  could  help  him 
out  of  his  troubles,  she  privately  appealed  to  him  in  the 
most  pathetic  terms  : — • 

"  I  know,"  she  wrote,  "  the  goodness  of  your  heart  will  readily 
forgive  me  for  this  freedom,  and  your  friendship  for  Mr.  Watt  will, 
I  am  sure,  excuse  me  for  pointing  out  a  few  things  that  press  upon 
his  mind.  I  am  very  sorry  to  tell  you  that  both  his  health  and 
spirits  have  been  much  worse  since  you  left  Soho.  It  is  all  that 
I  can  do  to  keep  him  from  sinking  under  that  fatal  depression. 
Whether  the  badness  of  his  health  is  owing  to  the  lowness  of  his 
spirits,  or  the  lowness  of  his  spirits  to  his  bad  health,  I  cannot 
pretend  to  tell.  But  this  I  know,  that  there  are  several  things  that 
prey  so  upon  his  mind  as  to  render  him  perfectly  miserable.  You 
know  the  bond  that  he  is  engaged  in  to  Vere's  house  has  been  the 
source  of  great  uneasiness  to  him.  It  is  still  so,  and  the  thought  of 
it  bows  him  down  to  the  very  ground.  He  thinks  that  company 
has  used  both  you  and  him  very  ill  in  refusing  to  release  him,  when 
you  can  give  them  security  for  a  vast  deal  more  than  you  are  bound 
for.  Forgive  me,  dear  Sir,  if  I  express  myself  wrong.  It  is  a 
subject  I  am  not  used  to  write  on.  I  know  if  you  can  you  will  set 
his  mind  at  rest  on  this  affair.  I  need  not  tell  you  that  the  seeing 
him  so  very  unhappy  must  of  consequence  make  me  so.  There  is 
another  affair  that  sits  very  heavy  on  his  mind ;  that  is,  some  old 
accounts  that  have  remained  unsettled  since  the  commencement  of  the 

rupt)  in  1782,  after  which  it  was  continued  for  some  time  longer  under  the 
firm  of  Koulton  and  Scale. 


business.  They  never  come  across  his  mind  but  he  is  rendered 
unfit  for  doing  anything  for  a  long  time.  A  thousand  times  have  I 
begged  him  to  mention  them  to  you.  ...  I  am  sure  he  would  suffer 
every  kind  of  anxiety  rather  than  ask  you  to  do  a  thing  you  seemed 
not  to  approve  of.  I  know  the  humanity  of  your  nature  would 
make  you  cheerfully  give  relief  to  any  of  the  human  race  that  was 
in  distress,  as  far  as  was  within  your  power.  The  knowledge  of 
this  makes  me  happy  in  the  thought  that  you  will  exert  every  nerve 
to  give  ease  to  the  mind  of  your  friend.  Believe  me,  there  is  not 
on  earth  a  person  who  is  dearer  to  him  than  you  are.  It  causes 
him  pain  to  give  you  trouble.  The  badness  of  his  constitution,  and 
his  natural  dislike  to  business,  make  him  leave  many  things  undone 
that  he  knows  ought  to  be  done,  and,  when  it  is  perhaps  too  late,  to 
make  himself  unhappy  at  their  being  neglected.  .  .  .  In  his  present 
state  of  weakness,  every  ill,  however  trifling,  appears  of  a  gigantic 
size,  while  on  the  other  hand  every  good  is  diminished.  Again, 
I  repeat,  that  from  the  certain  knowledge  I  have  of  his  temper, 
nothing  could  contribute  more  to  his  happiness  and  make  him  go 
on  cheerfully  with  business  than  having  everything  finished  as  he 
goes  along,  and  have  no  unsettled  scores  to  look  back  to  and  brood 
over  in  his  mind." l 

Mrs.  Watt  concluded  by  entreating  that  no  mention 
would  be  made  to  her  husband  of  her  having  written 
this  letter,  as  it  would  only  give  him  pain,  and  ex- 
plaining that  she  had  adopted  the  expedient  merely  in 
the  hope  that  something  might  be  done  to  alleviate  his 
sufferings.  This,  however,  was  a  very  difficult  thing 
to  do.  Boulton  could  remind  his  hopeless  partner  of 
the  orders  coming  in  for  engines,  and  that  such  orders 
meant  prosperity,  not  ruin ;  but  he  could  not  alter  the 
condition  of  a  mind  essentially  morbid.  Boulton  was 
himself  really  in  far  greater  straits  than  Watt.  He 
had  risked  his  whole  fortune  on  the  enterprise;  and 
besides  finding  money  for  buildings,  plant,  wages,  mate- 
rials, and  credits,  he  was  maintaining  Watt  until  the 
engine  business  became  productive.  We  find  from  the 
annual  balance-sheets  that  Watt  was  regularly  paid 
330£.  a  year,  which  was  charged  upon  the  hardware 

1  Mrs.  Watt  to  Mr.  Boulton,  then  in  London,  15th  April,  1781.  Boulton  MSS. 



business  ;  and  that  this  continued  down  to  the  year 
1785.  Till  then  everything  had  been  out-go;  the  profits 
were  all  to  come.  It  was  estimated  that  upwards  of 
40, GOO/,  were  invested  in  the  engine  business  before  it 
began  to  yield  profits ;  and  all  this  was  found  by  Boulton. 
In  one  of  his  letters  to  Matthews  he  wrote,  "I  find  my- 
self in  the  character  of  P,  pay  for  all,"  but  so  long  as 
his  credit  held  good,  Watt's  maintenance  was  secure. 

So  soon,  however,  as  it  became  clear  that  the  enter- 
prise would  be  a  success,  and  that  the  demand  for  engines 
must  shortly  become  national,  the  firm  was  threatened 
with  a  danger  of  another  kind,  which  occasioned  almost  as 
much  alarm  to  Boulton  as  it  did  to  Watt.  This  was  the 
movement  set  on  foot  in  Cornwall  and  elsewhere  with 
the  object  of  upsetting  their  patent.  Had  the  engine  been 
a  useless  invention,  no  one  could  have  questioned  their 
right  of  property  in  it ;  but,  being  recognised  as  of  bound- 
less utility,,  it  began  to  be  urged  that  .the  public  ought 
to  be  free  to  use  it  without  paying  for  it.  It  was 
alleged  that  it  had  become  indispensable  for  the  proper 
working  of  the  mines,  and  that  the  abolition  of  the 
patent  right  would  be  an  immense  boon  to  the  mining 
interest,  and  enable  them  to  work  the  ores  at  a  much 
reduced  cost,  while  the  general  industry  of  the  country 
would  also  be  greatly  benefited. 

When  Boulton  wrote  Watt  from  Cornwall,  informing 
him  that  the  Cornishmen  were  agitating  the  repeal  of 
the  special  Act  by  which  their  patent  had  been  extended, 
and  getting  up  petitions  with  that  object,  Watt  replied, 
"I  suspected  some  such  move  as  this;  and  you  may 
depend  upon  it  they  will  never  be  easy  while  they  pay 
us  anything.  This  is  a  match  of  all  Cornwall  against 
Boulton  and  Watt;  and  though  we  may  be  the  better 
players,  yet  they  can  hold  longer  out.  However,  if  we 
do  die,  let  us  die  hard." l 

1  In  another  letter  Watt  described 
himself  as  "  worried    by  the  Wheal 

Chanceians.  ...  In   short,"   says  he, 
"  I  am  at  this  moment  so  provoked  at 




But  would  Parliament  really  take  away  that  right  of 
property  in  the  invention  which  they  had  granted,  and 
deprive  Watt  and  his  partner  of  the  fruits  of  their  long- 
labour  and  anxiety,  and  their  heavy  outlay,  now  that 
the  superiority  of  the  engine  had  become  established  ? 
Would  the  legislature  consign  them  to  certain  ruin 
because  it  would  be  for  the  advantage  of  the  Cornish 
miners  to  have  the  use  of  the  invention  without  paying 
for  it  ?  Watt  would  not  for  a  moment  believe  this,  and 
both  he  and  Boulton  felt  strong  in  the  conviction  that 
their  patent  right  would  be  maintained. 

Time  was,  when  Watt  would  have  gladly  parted  with 
his  invention  for  a  very  small  sum,  and  made  the  engine 
free  to  all,  so  far  as  he  was  concerned.  Even  after 
it  had  been  perfected  at  Soho,  after  repeated  and  costly 
experiments,  he  declared  his  willingness  to  sell  all 
his  interest  in  it  for  70  OO/.,  which  would  have  barely 
remunerated  him  for  the  time  and  labour  he  had 
bestowed  upon  it,  then  extending  over  nearly  twenty 
years  of  the  best  period  of  his  life.  And  now,  after  six 
years  of  the  partnership  had  run,  and  the  heavy  ex- 
penditure incurred  by  Boulton  in  introducing  the  engine 
was  still  unproductive,  he  regarded  it  as  cruel  in  the 
extreme  to  attempt  to  deprive  him  of  his  just  reward. 
To  Boulton  he  disburdened  himself  fully,  in  strong  and 
sometimes  bitter  terms.  "  They  charge  us,"  he  said,  "  with 
establishing  a  monopoly,  but  if  a  monopoly,  it  is  one 
by  means  of  which  their  mines  are  made  more  pro- 
ductive than  ever  they  were  before.  Have  we  not 
given  over  to  them  two-thirds  of  the  advantages 
derivable  from  its  use  in  the  saving  of  fuel,  and  reserved 
only  one-third  to  ourselves,  though  even  that  has  been 
still  further  reduced  to  meet  the  pressure  of  the  times  ? 

the  undeserved  rancour  with  which 
we  are  persecuted  in  Cornwall,  that, 
were  it  not  on  account  of  the  de- 
plorable state  of  debt  I  find  myself  in, 
I  would  live  on  bread  and  cheese,  and 

suffer  the  water  to  run  out  at  their 
adits,  before  I  would  relax  the  slightest 
iota  of  what  I  thought  my  right  in 
their  favour." — Watt  to  Boulton,  17th 
October,  1780.  Boulton  MSS. 


They  say  it  is  inconvenient  for  the  mining  interest  to  be 
burdened  with  the  payment  of  engine  dues ;  just  as  it  is 
inconvenient  for  the  person  who  wishes  to  get  at  my 
purse  that  I  should  keep  my  breeches-pocket  buttoned. 
It  is  doubtless  also  very  inconvenient  for  the  man  who 
wishes  to  get  a  slice  of  the  squire's  land,  that  there 
should  be  a  law  tying  it  up  by  an  entail.  Yet  the 
squire's  land  has  not  been  of  his  own  making,  as  the 
condensing  engine  has  been  of  mine.  He  has  only 
passively  inherited  his  property,  while  this  invention 
has  been  the  product  of  my  own  labour,  and  of  God 
knows  how  much  anguish  of  mind  and  body ;  "- 

"  Why  don't  they,"  he  asked,  "  petition  Parliament  to  take 
Sir  Francis  Bassett's  mines  from  him  ?  He  acknowledges  that  he 
has  derived  great  profits  from  using  our  engines,  which  is  more 
than  we  can  say  of  our  invention ;  for  it  appears  by  our  books  that 
Cornwall  has  hitherto  eaten  up  all  the  profits  we  have  drawn  from 
it,  as  well  as  all  that  we  have  got  from  other  places,  and  a  good  sum 
of  our  own  money  into  the  bargain.  We  have  no  power  to  compel 
anybody  to  erect  our  engines.  What,  then,  will  Parliament  say  to 
any  man  who  comes  there  to  complain  of  a  grievance  he  can  avoid, 
and  which  does  not  exist  but  in  his  own  imagination?  Will 
Parliament  give  away  our  property  without  an  equivalent? 
Will  they  not  collect  that  equivalent  from  the  county  of  Cornwall  ? 
Will  they  adjudge  them  to  pay  us  any  less  sum  than  it  has  cost 
ourselves?  Will  they  not  further  add  some  reward  for  the  quantity 
of  life  that  has  been  devoted  to  the  pursuit  of  what  is  evidently  for 
the  advantage  of  others,  but  hitherto  has  not  been  for  our  own  ? 
Lastly,  will  Parliament  compel  us  to  work  for  anybody  without  a 
remuneration  adequate  to  our  experience,  or  will  they  oblige  us  to 
labour  for  any  one  without  our  consent  ?  We  are  in  the  state  of 
the  old  Eoman  who  was  found  guilty  of  raising  better  crops  than 
his  neighbours,  and  was  therefore  ordered  to  bring  before  the 
assembly  of  the  people  his  instruments  of  husbandry,  and  to  tell 
them  of  his  art.  He  complied,  and  when  he  had  done  said,  '  These 
0  Romans,  are  the  instruments  of  our  art ;  but  I  cannot  bring  into 
the  forum  the  labours,  the  sweats,  the  watchings,  the  anxieties,  the 
cares,  which  produced  these  crops.'  So,  every  one  sees  the  reward 
which  we  may  yet  probably  receive  from  our  labours;  but  few 
consider  the  price  we  have  paid  for  that  reward,  which  is  by  no 
means  a  certain  annuity,  but  a  return  of  the  most  precarious  sort. 
To  put  an  end,  as  far  as  lies  in  my  power,  to  all  disputes  with  the 




people  of  Cornwall,  let  them  pa.y  iny  debts  and  give  me  a  reasonable 
sum  for  the  time  I  Lave  lost,  and  I  will  resign  my  part  in  their 
favour,  and  think  myself  well  oif  by  the  bargain.  Or,  if  you  can 
find  any  man  who  is  agreeable  to  yourself,  I'll  sell  him  my  share 
on  reasonable  terms,  and,  like  the  sailor,  I  will  promise  to  contrive 
no  more  fire-engines.  In  short,  my  dear  Sir,  with  a  good  cause  in 
hand,  I  do  not  fear  going  before  Parliament  or  anywhere.  I  am 
sure  that  if  they  did  anything  they  would  put  us  in  a  better  position 
than  we  are  in  now."  ' 

The  petition  to  Parliament,  though  much  talked 
about,  was  not,  however,  presented;  and  the  schemers 
who  envied  Boulton  and  Watt  the  gains  which  they 
had  now  the  prospect  of  deriving  from  the  use  of  their 
engine,  shortly  after  resorted  to  other  means  of  par- 
ticipating in  them,  to  which  we  shall  hereafter  refer. 
In  the  mean  time  Boulton,  at  the  urgent  entreaty  of 
Watt,  who  described  himself  as  "loaded  to  121bs.  on  the 
inch,"  returned  to  Birmingham ;  though  he  had  scarcely 
left  before  urgent  entreaties  were  sent  after  him  that  he 
must  come  back  again  to  Cornwall.2 

While  Boulton  was  in  Cornwall,  the  principal  manu- 
facturers of  Birmingham,  dissatisfied  with  the  bad  and 
dear  supply  of  copper,  resolved  to  form  themselves  into 
a  company  for  the  purpose  of  making  brass  and  spelter ; 
and  they  wrote  to  Boulton  offering  to  raise  the  requisite 
means,  provided  he  would  take  the  lead  in  the  manage- 
ment of  the  concern.  He  could  not  but  feel  gratified  at 
this  best  of  all  proofs  of  the  esteem  in  which  his  towns- 
men held  him,  and  of  their  confidence  in  his  business 
qualities.  Boulton,  however,  declined  to  undertake  so 
large  an  addition  to  his  labours.  He  felt  that  he  would 

1  Watt   to  Boulton,  31st  October, 
1780.     Boulton  MSS. 

2  "  Though  your  long  stay,  when 
you  were  last  here,"  wrote  Henderson, 
the  resident  agent,  "  must  have  been 
attended   with    great   inconveniences, 
yet  you  are  now  very  much  \vanted 
in  Wheal   Virgin   affairs.      Different 
interests    have    produced    a    sort    of 
anarchy.  .  .  .   Were   Mr.  Watt    here 

now,  I  don't  think  his  health  would 
allow  him  to  stand  the  battles  with 
the  different  people.  I  have  not  written 
to  him  freely  on  this  subject,  as  I  am 
afraid  it  would  hurt  him.  .  .  .  Your 
authority  here  as  an  adventurer  has 
much  greater  weight  than  anything  I 
can  propose." — Henderson  to  Boulton, 
4th  February,  ITS  I.  Boulton  MSS. 


soon  be  an  old  man,  and  that  it  would  be  necessary  for 
him  to  contract  rather  than  extend  the  field  of  his  opera- 
tions ;  besides,  the  engine  business  was  already  suffi- 
ciently prosperous  to  induce  him  to  devote  to  it  the  chief 
share  of  his  attention.  But  he  promised  to  his  Birming- 
ham friends  that  he  would  always  be  glad  to  give  them 
his  best  advice  and  assistance.  He  accordingly  furnished 
them  with  a  plan  of  operations,  and  drew  up  a  scheme 
for  their  consideration,  which  was  unanimously  adopted, 
and  the  whole  of  the  share  capital  was  at  once  subscribed 
for.  He  also  made  arrangements  with  his  Cornish 
friends  for  a  regular  supply  of  copper  direct  from  the 
mines  on  the  best  terms.  On  his  return  to  Birmingham, 
we  find  him  entering  upon  an  elaborate  series  of  experi- 
ments, to  determine  the  best  constituents  of  brass;  in 
the  course  of  which  he  personally  visited  the  principal 
calamine  works  in  Wales  and  Derbyshire,  for  the  pur- 
pose of  testing  their  different  produce.  He  diligently 
read  all  the  treatises  on  the  subject,  and  made  inquiries 
as  to  the  practice  adopted  in  foreign  countries.  Finding, 
however,  that  the  continuance  of  his  connexion  with  the 
brass  company  was  absorbing  more  of  his  time  than  he 
could  afford  to  bestow  upon  it,  he  shortly  withdrew  from 
the  concern,' — partly  also^  because  he  was  dissatisfied  with 
what  he  considered  the  illiberal  manner  in  which  the 
managing  committee  were  conducting  its  affairs. 

Another  subject  which  occupied  much  of  Boulton's 
attention  about  the  same  time,  was  the  improvement 
of  engine  boilers.  At  an  early  period  he  introduced 
tubes  in  them,  through  which  the  heated  air  of  the 
furnace  passed,  thereby  greatly  increasing  the  heating 
surface  and  enabling  steam  to  be  raised  more  easily  and 
rapidly.  We  find  him  in  correspondence  with  Watt 
on  the  subject,  while  residing  at  Redruth  in  the  autumn 
of  1780.  He  first  suggested  iron  tubes;  but  Watt 
wrote,  "  I  cannot  advise  iron  for  the  tubes  of  boilers,  but 


they  may  be  thought  of." ]  Next  Boulton  suggested 
the  employment  of  copper  tubes  ;  to  which  Watt  replied, 
"  I  approve  of  what  you  observe  about  making  copper 
flanches  to  the  boiler  pipes  in  future,  and  Ale  and  Cakes 
can  easily  be  converted  to  that  way  whenever  they  put 
up  a  second  boiler."  We  find  Boulton  introducing  four 
copper  tubes  20  inches  in  diameter  into  the  Wheal  Busy 
boiler,  which  was  26  feet  in  length, — the  fire  passing 
through  two  of  the  tubes,  and  returning  through  the 
other  two.  '  Here,  therefore,  we  have  Boulton  anticipating 
the  invention  of  the  tubular  boiler,  and  clearly  adopting 
it  in  practice,  before  the  existence  of  the  locomotive, 
for  which  it  was  afterwards  re-invented.  In  fact,  the 
multitubular  boiler  is  but  a  modification  and  extension 
of  Boulton' s  principle,  as  applied  by  him  at  so  early 
a  period  in  the  Cornish  boilers. 

The  numerous  MS.  books  left  by  Boulton  show  the 
care  with  which  he  made  his  experiments,  and  the  scru- 
pulousness with  which  he  recorded  the  results.  Copies 
of  his  observations  and  experiments  on  boilers  were 
sent  to  Watt,  to  be  entered  by  him  in  "the  calculation 
book,"  in  which  was  recorded  the  tabulated  experience 
of  the  firm.  Boulton  was  also  an  excellent  mechanical 
draughtsman,  as  appears  from  his  tablets,  which  contain 
a  number  of  beautifully  executed  drawings  of  engines 
and  machinery,  with  very  copious  and  minutely-written 
instructions  for  erecting  them.  Some  of  the  drawings 
of  sugar-mills  are  especially  well  executed,  and  delicately 
coloured.  A  rough  sketch  is  given  in  one  of  the  books, 
with  a  written  explanation  in  Boulton's  hand,  of  a 
mode  of  applying  power  in  taking  canal-boats  through 
tunnels.  It  consists  of  an  engine-boat,  with  toothed 
claws  attached  to  it  for  the  purpose  of  catching  metal 
racks  fastened  along  the  sides  of  the  tunnel,  such  being 

1  Watt  to  Boulton,  17th  October,  1780. 




liis  design  for  working  boats  upon  canals.  While  in 
Cornwall,  he  occupied  his  evenings  in  drawing  sections 
of  various  mines,  showing  the  adits,  and  the  method  of 
applying  the  pumping  machinery,  to  which  were  also 
added  numerous  elaborate  calculations  of  the  results  of 
engine  working.  He  also  continued  to  devise  improve- 
ments in  the  construction  and  working  of  the  steam- 
engine,  on  which  subject  he  exchanged  his  views  with 
Watt  at  great  length.  In  one  of  his  letters  he  says  : 
"  I  like  your  plan  of  making  all  the  principal  wearing 
parts  of  tempered  steel,  and  the  racks  of  best  Swedish 
iron,  with  the  teeth  cut  out.  Query :  Would  it  not  be 
worth  while  to  make  a  machine  for  dividing  and  cutting 
the  teeth  in  good  form  out  of  sectors  ?  The  iron  would 
be  less  strained  by  that  mode  of  cutting."  At  other 
times,  when  the  steam-engine  subject  seemed  exhausted, 
he  proceeded  with  the  designing  of  road-carriages,  in 
which  he  was  an  adept,  filling  a  quarto  drawing-book, 
entitled  6  Thoughts  on  Carriages/  with  sketches  of 
different  kinds  of  vehicles,  some  in  pencil  and  Indian 
ink,  and  others  in  colours,  beautifully  finished.  Such 
were  the  leisure  employments  of  this  indefatigably 
industrious  man. 

t.Is'l  KANCK    1O    CUt 





WATT'S  presence  being  much  wanted  in  Cornwall,  he 
again  proceeded  thither,  accompanied  by  his  wife  and 
family,  and  arrived  at  Cosgarne  towards  the  end  of 
June,  1781.  He  found  that  many  things  had  gone 
wrong  for  want  of  the  master's  eye,  and  it  was  some 
time  before  he  succeeded  in  putting  affairs  in  order. 
The  men  had  been  neglecting  their  work,  "  going 
a-drijiking."  Cartwright  had  "contracted  a  fever  in 
his  working  arm,  and  been  swallowing  ale  for  a  cure," 
until  he  heard  Watt  had  come,  when  the  fever  left  him. 
Mrs.  Watt  also  found  occasion  to  complain  of  sundry  little 
grievances,  and  favoured  Boulton  with  a  long  catalogue 
of  them.  Gregory  and  Jessy  had  caught  cold  on  the 
journey,  and  workmen  were  hammering  about  the  house 
making  repairs.  There  was,  however,  one  gleam  of 




brightness  in  her  letter:  "James's  spirits  were  sur- 
prisingly mended  since  his  arrival." 

Watt  was  a  most  voluminous  correspondent.  He  wrote 
Boulton  several  times  a  week  great  folio  sheets,  written 
close,  in  small  hand.  The  letters  must  have  occupied 
much  of  his  time  to  write,  and  of  Boulton' s  to  read. 
The  latter,  seeing  his  partner's  tendency  to  indulge  in 
"worrit"  about  petty  troubles,  advised  him  in  a  kindly 
spirit  not  to  vex  himself  so  much  about  such  matters, 
but  to  call  philosophy  to  his  aid.  Why  should  he  not 
occupy  some  of  his  spare  time  in  writing  out  a  history 
of  all  his  steam-engine  contrivances,  to  be  dedicated  to 
Sir  Joseph  Banks,  and  published  in  the  '  Transactions  of 
the  Eoyal  Society '  ?  But  Watt  was  extremely  averse 
to  writing  anything  for  publication,  and  the  suggestion 
wras  not  acted  on.  Then,  knowing  Watt's  greatest 
pleasure  to  be  in  inventing,  Boulton  in  a  subsequent 
letter  advised  him  to  take  up  afresh,  and  complete  a 
plan  which  they  had  often  discussed,  of  producing  rotary 
motion,  by  which  the  engine  might  be  applied  to  work 
mills  and  drive  machinery. 

Watt  had  from  the  first  regarded  the  employment  of 
the  steam-engine  in  producing  continuous  rotary  motion 
as  one  of  its  most  useful  applications,  and  with  this 
object  he  invented  his  original  wheel-engine.  No  steps 
were  taken  to  introduce  the  invention  to  practical  use ; 
but  it  occurred  to  Watt  that  the  same  object  might  be 
better  effected  by  employing  the  ordinary  engine  for 
the  purpose,  with  certain  modifications.1  The  subject 
had  partially  occupied  his  attention  during  his  first>visit 

1  In  June,  1780,  we  find  Boulton 
describing  to  Colonel  Watson  the 
progress  of  the  Soho  business,  as 
follows : — "  Since  I  had  the  honour  of 
seeing  you  in  England  we  have  erected 
upwards  of  40  of  our  new  steam- 
engines,  and  have  (from  so  much  ex- 
perience) obviated  every  difficulty,  and 
made  it  a  most  practicable  and  perfect 

machine.  The  steam  wrheel  we  have 
not  meddled  with  since  you  were  at 
Soho,  as  we  have  been  fully  em- 
ployed upon  large  beam  -  engines ; 
besides,  we  have  applied  the  beam 
engine  to  rotative  motions  so  success- 
fully that  the  wheel  engine  seems 
almost  unnecessary." 


to  Cornwall;  for  we  find  him  writing  Boulton  from 
Chace water,  in  1779,  "As  to  the  circular  motion,  I  will 
apply  it  as  soon  as  I  can,  but  foresee  that  I  shall  be  very 
busy  shortly,  and  much  out  of  doors."  On  his  subsequent 
return  to  Birmingham,  after  frequent  conferences  with 
his  partner  on  the  subject,  he  proceeded  to  prepare 
a  model,  in  which  he  made  use  of  a  crank  connected 
with  the  working  beam  of  the  engine  to  produce 
the  rotary  motion.  There  was  no  originality  in  the 
employment  of  the  crank,  which  was  an  expedient  that 
Watt  had  long  before  made  use  of.1  The  crank  was, 
indeed,  one  of  the  most  common  of  mechanical  ap- 
pliances. It  was  in  daily  use  in  every  spinning-wheel, 
in  every  grindstone  turned  by  hand,  in  every  turner's 
and  knife-grinder's  foot-lathe,  and  in  every  potter's  wheel. 
It  was  one  of  the  commonest, 
as  it  must  have  been  one  of 
the  oldest,  of  mechanical  ex- 
pedients. "The  true  in- 
ventor of  the  crank  rotative 
motion,"  said  Watt,'  "  was 
the  man  who  first  contrived 
the  common  foot-lathe  :  ap- 
plying it  tO  the  engine  Was  THE  CRANK  AS  APPLIED  IN  THE 

like  taking  a  knife  to  cut 

cheese  which  had  been  made  to  cut  bread." 

Though  Watt  had  become  very  reserved,  especially  to 
strangers,  about  his  inventions,  he  could  not  altogether 
keep  from  the  knowledge  of  his  workmen  the  con- 
trivances on  which  his  thoughts  were  occupied.  He 
was  under  the  necessity  of  employing  them  to  make 
patterns  after  his  drawings,  from  which  any  ingenious 
man  might  readily  apprehend  what  he  was  aiming  at. 

1  Watt  had  made  use  of  the  crank  denser,  I  laid  aside  the  spiral  wheels 
at  a  very  early  period.  Thus  we  find  j  because  of  the  noise  and  thumping, 
him  writing  to  Dr.  Small  on  the  20th  and  substituted  a  crank :  in  other 
September,  176U, — "  As  to  the  con-  respects  it  performed  well  enough." 


The  Soho  workmen  were  naturally  curious  about  trie 
new  inventions  and  adaptations  which  Watt  was  con- 
stantly producing,  and  these  usually  formed  the  subject 
of  conversation  at  their  by-hours.  While  the  model  of 
the  crank  engine  was  under  construction  at  Soho  in 
the  summer  of  1780,  a  number  of  the  workmen  met 
one  Saturday  evening,  according  to  custom,  to  drink 
together  at  the  "  Waggon  and  Horses,"  a  little  old- 
fashioned,  low-roofed,  roadside  public-house,  still  standing 

[Hy    Ptrcival    Rkeltc.n  ] 

in  the  village  of  Handsworth.  The  men  were  seated 
round  the  little  kitchen-parlour,  talking  about  their 
work,  and  boasting,  as  men  will  do  over  their  beer,  of 
the  new  and  wonderful  things  which  they  were  carrying 
forward  in  the  shops.  Dick  Cartwright,  the  pattern 
maker,  was  one  of  the  loudest  of  the  party.  He  was 
occupied  upon  a  model  for  the  purpose  of  producing 
rotary  motion,  which  he  declared  would  prove  one  of 
the  best  things  Mr.  Watt  had  ever  brought  out.  The 
other  men  were  curious  to  know  all  about  it,  and  to 
illustrate  the  action  of  the  machine,  Cartwright  pro- 

CHAP.  XV.  UATTIIKW    \V  ASH  ]>,<  >];<  >H  ill.  289 

ceeded  to  make  a  rude  sketch  of  the  crank  upon  the 
wooden  table  with  a  bit  of  chalk.  A  person  who  sat  in 
the  kitchen  corner  in  the  assumed  garb  of  a  workman, 
drank  in  greedily  all  that  the  men  had  been  saying ; 
for  there  were  many  eavesdroppers  constantly  hanging 
about  Soho,  some  for  the  purpose  of  picking  up  surrep- 
titious information,  and  others  to  decoy  away  skilled  work- 
men who  were  in  the  secrets  of  the  manufacture.  Watt 
himself  had  never  thought  of  taking  out  a  patent  for 
the  crank,  not  believing  it  to  be  patentable ;  but  the 
stranger  aforesaid  had  no  such  hesitation,  and  it  is  said 
he  posted  straight  to  London  and  anticipated  Watt- by 
securing  a  protection  for  the  contrivance.1 

Watt  was  exceedingly  wroth  when  he  discovered  the 
trick  which  had  been  played  him,  and  he  suspected  that 
Matthew  Washborough  was  at  the  bottom  of  it.  Wash- 
borough  was  a  Bristol  mechanic,  who  carried  on  several 
branches  of  mechanical  trade,  amongst  others  that  of 
clock-making  on  a  large  scale.  Watt  had  employed 
Washborough  to  make  nozzles  for  several  of  the  Cornish 
engines,  but  was  not  satisfied  with  his  work ;  for  we  find 
him  writing  to  his  partner,  "  If  Washborough  makes  no 
better  engines  than  he  does  eduction-pipes,  he  will  soon 
be  blo\vn :  the  Wheal  Union  pipe  is  the  worst  job  you 
ever  saw,  being  worse  than  Forbes 's,  which  was  very  bad ; 
I  scarce  know  what  to  do  with  it."  It  would  appear  from 
this  that  Washborough  had  begun  to  make  engines, 
thereby  turning  to  account  the  knowledge  he  had 
acquired  in  Cornwall.  One  of  the  first  he  made  was  for 
the  purpose  of  driving  the  lathes  of  his  own  manu- 
factory at  Bristol ;  and  it  affords  a  clear  proof  of  Wash- 
borough's  ingenuity  that  in  this  engine  he  employed 
both  the  fly-wheel  and  the  crank.  He  has  been  styled 

1  The  invention  was  patented  by  employing  it  in  the  engine  invented 
James  Picknrd,  a  Birmingham  button-  -  by  him  for  securing  circular  motion, 
maker,  on  the  23rd  August,  1780  j  Washborough's  own  patent  has  no  re- 
(Xo.  1263).  Matthew  Washborough  |  ference  to  the  crank,  though  he  is  usu- 
of  Bristol  arranged  with  Pickard  for  ;  ally  named  as  the  inventor  of  it. 





the  inventor  of  the  fly-wheel,  but  he  was  no  more  its 
inventor  than  he  was  of  the  crank ;  the  Irish  Professor 
Fitzgerald  having  proposed  to  employ  it  as  part  of  a 
Papin's  engine  as  early  as  the  year  1757.  Washborough 
shortly  after  erected  an  engine  after  the  same  plan  for 
a  manufacturer  on  Snow  Hill,  Birmingham ;  and  then 
it  was  that  Watt  learned  that  he  had  been  "  bolted  out," 
as  he  termed  it,  from  making  use  of  the  crank. 

At  first  he  was  puzzled  what  to  do  to  overcome  the 
difficulty,  but  his  prolific  mind  was  rarely  at  a  loss,  and 
before  many  months  were  over  he  had  contrived  several 
other  methods  for  effecting  rotary  motion.  "I  dare 
not,  however,"  he  wrote  to  Boulton,  "make  my  new 
scheme,  lest  we  be  betrayed  again ;  I  believe  we  had 
best  take  the  patent  first."  At  the  same  time  Watt 
was  persuaded  that  no  contrivance  could  surpass  the 
crank  *  for  directness,  simplicity,  and  efficiency.  He  was 
therefore  desirous,  if  possible,  of  making  use  of  it  in  his 
rotative  engine,  as  originally  proposed ;  and  he  wrote  to 
Boulton,  then  at  Redruth,  "  I  think  you  ought  to  call 
upon  Washborough  as  you  return,  and  let  him  know  that 
we  will  dispute  his  having  an  exclusive  right  to  those 
cranks."2  Boulton  called  upon  Washborough  accord- 
ingly, and  gave  him  notice  to  this  effect.  But  Watt 
hesitated  to  use  the  crank  after  all.  Although  the  con- 
trivance was  by  no  means  new,  its  application  to  the 
steam-engine  was  new  ;  and,  notwithstanding  the  unfair 
way  in  which  Pickard  had  anticipated  him,  Watt 
did  not  like  to  set  the  example  of  assailing  a  patent, 
however  disputable,  as  it  might  furnish  a  handle  to 
those  who  were  at  the  time  seeking  to  attack  his 

1  At  a  later  date  we  find  him  writing 
to  his  partner  thus : — "  I  cannot  agree 
with  Mr.  Palmer's  notion  about  the 
crank  engine,  as,  though  a  crank  is  not 
new,  yet  that  application  of  it  is  new 
and  never  was  practised  except  by  us. 
It  is  by  no  means  our  interest  to 
demolish  the  crank  patent,  because 

then  all  our  own  machines  of  that 
kind  will  be  of  no  use,  and  1  am  con- 
vinced that  the  crank  can  be  made 
their  superior." — Watt  to  Boulton, 
15th  October,  1781. 

2  Watt  to  Boulton,  19th  November, 


own.  The  proposal  was  made  to  him  that  he  should 
allow  the  Washborough  Company  to  use  his  steam- 
engine  in  exchange  for  their  allowing  him  to  use  the 
crank ;  but  this  he  positively  refused  to  agree  to,  as  he 
felt  confident  in  yet  being  able  to  produce  a  circular 
motion  without  employing  the  crank  at  all. 

Thus  matters  stood  until  the  beginning  of  the  year 
1781,  when  Washborough,  having  entered  into  an  ar- 
rangement with  the  Commissioners  of  the  Navy  to 
erect  an  engine  for  grinding  flour  at  the  Deptford 
Victualling  Yard,1  a  formal  application  was  made  to 
Boulton  and  Watt  to  apply  their  engine  for  the  purpose. 
Watt  protested  that  he  could  not  bring  himself  to 
submit  to  such  an  indignity.  If  the  Commissioners 
thought  proper  to  employ  him  to  erect  the  necessary 
engine,  rotative  motion,  and  machinery,  he  would  exert 
every  faculty  which  God  had  given  him  in  doing  so, 
but  he  "would  never  consent  to  hold  the  candle  to 

"  Had  I  esteemed  him,"  he  wrote  to  Boulton,  "  a  man  of  ingenuity 
and  the  real  inventor  of  the  thing  in  question,  I  should  not  have 
made  any  objection ;  but,  when  I  know  that  the  contrivance  is  my 
own,  and  has  been  stolen  from  me  by  the  most  infamous  means,  and, 
to  add  to  the  provocation,  a  patent  been  surreptitiously  obtained 
for  it,  I  think  it  would  be  descending  below  the  character  of  a  man 
to  be  found  in  any  way  aiding  or  assisting  him  in  his  pretended 
invention.  ...  I  think,  therefore,  that  you  should  propose  to  the 
Honourable  Board  to  undertake  the  direction  of  the  whole;  and, 
provided  you  can  agree  with  them  about  the  customary  premium 

1  Boulton  and  Watt  were  by  this  |  to  the  work  of  ten  men  for  ten  hours, 
time  employing  their  engine  for  a  like  j  and  these  mills  may  be  made  very 
purpose,  as  appears  from  a  letter  of  j  much  more  powerful  than  any  water- 
Boulton  to  S.  Wyatt,  dated  28th  mills  in  England."  To  Mr.  Henderson 

February,  1781,  in  which  he  says, — 
"  \Ve  are  now  applying  our  engines  to 
all  kinds  of  mills,  such  as  corn  mills, 
rolling  iron  and  copper,  winding  coals 
out  of  the  pit,  and  every  other  purpose 
to  which  the  wind  or  water  mill  is 
applicable.  In  such  applications,  one 
hundred  weight  of  coals  will  produce 
as  much  mechanical  power  as  is  equal 

he  wrote  at  the  same  date :— "  I  make 
no  scruple  to  say  but  that  I  could 
readily  build  a  more  powerful  and  in 
every  respect  better  copper-rolling  mill 
by  steam  than  any  water-mill  now  in 
England.  As  soon  as  the  Cornish 
engines  are  at  work,  I  intend  to  turn 
millwright  and  make  our  steam-mills 
universally  known." 

u  2 


for  the  savings  by  our  engine,  you  should  do  the  whirligig  part  [the 
rotative  motion]  for  love.  If  this  proposal  should  not  be  accepted, 
I  beg  of  you  to  decline  having  any  concern  with  it,  and  leave  the 
field  clear  to  Washborough.  We  may  perhaps  gain  more  by  so 
doing  than  we  can  lose,  as  I  assure  you  I  have  a  very  mean  opinion 
of  the  mechanical  abilities  of  our  opponents.  They  have  committed 
many  gross  errors  in  such  of  their  works  as  I  have  had  occasion  to 
know  about,  and  we  may  get  honour  by  rectifying  their  mistakes. 
Perhaps  this  may  seem  to  you  to  savour  of  vanity.  If  it  does, 
excuse  it  on  account  of  the  very  provoking  circumstances  which 
have  extorted  the  confession.  If  these  engineers  had  let  us  alone,  I 
should  not  have  meddled  with  them ;  but,  as  it  is,  I  think  we  should 
be  wanting  in  common  prudence  if  we  suffered  a  marriage  between 
our  machine  and  theirs,  and  if  we  did  not  do  all  we  could  to  strip 
them  of  their  borrowed  feathers,  which  I  hope  there  is  justice 
enough  left  in  England  to  enable  us  to  do." 1 

Boulton  acted  on  his  partner's  advice,  and  declined 
the  proposed  connexion.  The  Navy  Board  were  placed 
in  a  dilemma  by  this  decision.  They  then  referred 
the  matter  to  Mr.  Smeaton,  and  requested  him  to  report 
to  them  as  to  the  most  suitable  plan  of  a  flour-mill, 
and  the  steam-engine  best  calculated  to  drive  it.  To 
the  great  surprise  of  Watt  as  well  as  Washborough, 
Smeaton  reported  that  both  their  engines  were  alike 

1  Watt  to  Boulton,  21st  April,  1781. 
On  the  following"  day  (the  22nd 
April)  Watt  wrote  another  long  letter 
to  Boulton  on  the  same  subject. 
His  mind  could  not  be  at  rest, 
and  he  thus  unburdened  himself 
of  his  indignation  : — "  If  you  find 
yourself  so  circumstanced,  as  you 
say  you  are,  that  you  dare  not  refuse 
[to  erect  the  proposed  engine  for  the 
Navy  Board],  then  let  them  pay  M. 
Washborough  and  have  done  with  him, 
and  let  the  engine  be  erected  under 
our  direction  or  Mr.  Smeaton's.  With 
the  latter  I  will  go  hand  in  hand ;  nay 
I  will  do  more — I  will  submit  to  him 
in  all  mechanical  matters ;  but  I  will 
by  no  means  submit  to  go  on  with 
thieves  and  puppies,  whose  knowledge 
and  integrity  I  contemn.  Though  I 
am  not  so  saucy  as  many  of  my  coun- 
trymen, I  have  enough  of  innate  pride 
to  prevent  me  from  doing  a  mean 

action  because  a  servile  prudence  may 
dictate  it.  If  a  king  were  to  think 
Matt  Washborough  a  better  engineer 
than  me,  I  should  scorn  to  undeceive 
him.  I  should  leave  that  to  Matthew. 
The  connexion  would  be  stronger  as 
the  evidence  would  be  undeniable.  So 
much  for  heroics !....!  will  never 
meanly  sue  a  thief  to  give  me  my 
own  again,  unless  1  have  nothing  left 
behind.  As  it  now  stands,  I  have 
enough  left  to  make  their  patent 
tremble,  and  shall  leave  no  mechanical 
stone  unturned  to  aggrieve  them.  I 
will  do  more.  I  will  publish  my 
inventions,  by  which  means  they  will 
be  entirely  precluded,  because  they 
must  be  fools  indeed  that  will  pay 
them  for  what  they  can  have  for 
nothing.  I  am  very  ill  with  a  head- 
ache, therefore  can  write  no  more  than 
passion  dictates." 


unsuited  for  such  a  purpose.  "  I  apprehend,"  he  said, 
"  that  no  motion  communicated  from  the  reciprocating 
lever  of  a  fire-engine  can  ever  produce  a  perfect  circular 
motion,  like  the  regular  efflux  of  water  in  turning 
a  water-wheel ! "  This  report  relieved  the  Commis- 
sioners. They  abandoned  their  scheme,  and  the  order  for 
Washborough's  engine  was  at  once  countermanded.1 

So  soon  as  Watt  had  got  fairly  settled  at  Cosgarne, 
in  the  summer  of  1781,  he  proceeded  to  work  out  the 
plan  of  a  rotary-working  engine.  Boulton  was  making 
experiments  with  the  same  object  at  Soho,  communi- 
cating to  him  the  results  from  day  to  day.  He  was  stimu- 
lated to  prosecute  the  inquiry  by  the  applications  which 
he  received  from  many  quarters  for  steam-engines 
suitable  for  driving  mills.  He  therefore  urged  Watt 
to  complete  the  invention,  and  to  prepare  the  drawings 
and  specification,  declaring  his  readiness  at  any  time  to 
provide  the  money  requisite  for  taking  out  a  patent. 
"  The  people  in  London,  Manchester,  and  Birmingham," 
said  he,  "  are  steam-mill  mad.  I  don't  mean  to  hurry 
you,  but  I  think  that  in  the  course  of  a  month  or  two 
we  should  determine  to  take  out  a  patent  for  certain 
methods  of  producing  rotative  motion  from  the  vibrating 
or  reciprocating  motion  of  the  fire-engine, — remembering 
that  we  have  four  months  in  which  to  describe  the  par- 
ticulars of  the  invention." 2 

Watt  proceeded  to  put  his  ideas  in  a  definite  shape  as 
fast  as  his  bad  health  and  low  spirits  would  allow. 
Every  now  and  then  a  fit  of  despair  came  upon  him 
about  his  liability  to  the  bankers,  and  so  long  as  it  lasted 
he  was  unmanned,  and  could  do  nothing.  At  the  very 

1  Washborough  was  much  mortified 
by  the  decision  of  the  Navy  Board, 
and  alleged  that  he  had  been  badly 
used  by  them.  The  anxieties  occa- 

off  in  October,  1781,  when  only  in 
his  28th  year.  He  was  unquestion- 
ably a  young  man  of  much  inge- 
nuity and  merit,  and  had  he  lived 

sioned  by  his  failure,  and  the  pecu-  i  would  have  achieved  high  eminence 
niary  losses  he  had  sustained,  preyed    and  distinction  as  an  engineer, 
heavily  upon  his  mind,  and  he  was        2  Boulton    to    Watt,    21st     June, 
seized  by  a  fever  which  earned  him  j  1781. 




time  that  Boulton  was  writing  the  letter  last  quoted, 
Watt  was  thus  bewailing  his  unhappy  lot  :— 

"  When  I  executed  the  mortgage,"  said  he,  "  my  sensations  were 
such  as  were  not  to  be  envied  by  any  man  who  goes  to  death  in  a 
just  cause ;  nor  has  time  lessened  the  acuteness  of  my  feelings.  .  .  . 
I  thought  I  was  resigning  in  one  hour  the  fruits  of  the  labour  of  my 
whole  life, — and  that  if  any  accident  befell  you  or  me,  I  should  have 
left  a  wife  and  children  destitute  of  the  means  of  subsistence,  by 
throwing  away  the  only  jewel  Fortune  had  presented  me  with.  .  .  . 
These  transactions  have  been  such  a  burden  upon  my  mind  that  I 
have  become  in  a  manner  indifferent  to  all  other  things,  and  can  take 
pleasure  in  nothing  until  my  mind  is  relieved  from  them;  and 
perhaps,  from  so  long  a  disuse  of  entertaining  pleasing  ideas,  never 
may  be  capable  of  receiving  them  any  more." l 

Boulton  made  haste  to  console  his  partner,  and  pro- 
mised to  take  immediate  steps  to  relieve  his  mind  of  the 
anxiety  that  weighed  so  heavy  upon  it;  and  he  was 
as  good  as  his  word.  At  the  same  time  he  told  Watt 
that  he  must  not  suppose  he  was  the  only  man  in  the 
world  who  had  cares  and  troubles  to  endure.  Boulton 
himself  'had,  perhaps,  more  than  his  share,  but  he 
tried  to  bear  them  as  lightly  as  he  could.  With 
his  heavy  business  engagements  to  meet,  his  large  con- 
cerns to  keep  going,  he  was  not  a  man  much  to  be 
envied ;  yet  he  continued  to  receive  his  visitors  as 
usual  at  Soho,  and  to  put  on  a  cheerful  countenance. 
"I  am  obliged,"  he  wrote,  "to  smile,  to  laugh,  to  be 
good-humoured,  sometimes  to  be  merry,  and  even  go  to 
the  play  !  Oh,  that  I  were  at  the  Land's  End  !  "  Such 
was  his  playful  way  of  reminding  Watt  of  the  neces- 
sity of  cheerfulness  to  enable  one  to  get  through  work 
pleasantly.2  But  Watt's  temperament  was  wholly  dif- 

1  Watt    to    Boulton,     21st    June, 

2  While   Boulton   spoke   good   hu- 
mouredly  to  his  partner  in  Cornwall 
with  the  object  of  cheering  him  up, 
he  privately  unbosomed  himself  to  his 
friend  Matthews  in  London.     When 
requesting  him  to  call  at  once  on  the 

bankers  and  get  the  account  reduced 
to  an  advance  of  12,000?.,  and  thus 
obtain  Mr.  Watt's  release,  he  com- 
plained of  the  distress  which  the  com- 
munications of  the  latter  had  caused 
him.  He  thought  his  conduct  un- 
generous, taking  all  the  circumstances 
into  account,  and  considering  that  the 


ferent.  His  philosophy  never  rose  to  the  height  of 
taking  things  easy.  He  could  not  cast  his  cares  behind 
him,  nor  lose  sight  of  them ;  but  carried  them  about 
with  him  by  day,  and  took  them  to  bed  with  him  at 
night ;  thus  making  life  a  sort  of  prolonged  vexation — 
a  daily  and  nightly  misery. 

But  a  new  and  still  more  alarming  source  of  anxiety 
occurred  to  disturb  the  mind  of  poor  Watt,  and  occasion 
him  many  more  sleepless  nights.  The  movement  to 
abolish  the  patent  by  repeal  of  the  Act  of  Parliament 
having  broken  down,  attempts  were  now  made  in  many 
quarters  to  evade  it  by  ingenious  imitations,  in  which 
the  principle  of  Watt's  engine  was  adopted  in  variously 
disguised  forms.  But  to  do  this  successfully  would  have 
required  an  inventive  faculty  almost  as  potent  as  that  of 
Watt  himself;  and  he  had  drawn  the  specification  of  his 
patent  too  carefully  to  be  easily  broken  through  by 
the  clumsy  imitators  who  made  the  attempt.  It  was, 
however,  only  natural  that  the  success  of  the  new  engine 
should  draw  the  attention  of  ingenious  mechanics  to 
the  same  subject.  Watt  had  drawn  a  great  prize, 
and  why  should  not  they?  though  they  little  knew  the 
burden  of  sorrow  which  his  prize  had  brought  upon 
him.  They  only  knew  of  the  large  annual  dues — 
probably  exaggerated  by  the  tongue  of  rumour — which 
were  being  paid  to  the  patentees  for  the  use  of  their 
engines ;  and  they  not  unnaturally  sought  to  share  in  the 
good  fortune.  There  might  possibly  be  other  mechanical 

firm  were    within    a    year  of  being  j  by  the   same    rule   I    ought   not   to 
tolerably    easy    in    money    matters,    neglect    mine.-      His    wife's    fortune 

"  When  I  reflect,"  he  wrote,  "  on  his 
situation  in  1772  and  my  own  at  that 
time,  and  compare  them  with  his  and 
mine  now,  I  think  I  owe  him  little.  .  . 
I  some  time  ago  gave  him  a  security 
of  all  my  two-thirds,  after  paying  off 
L.  V.  and  W.  [the  bankers],  from 
which  you  may  judge  how  little 
reason  he  has  to  complain.  He  talks 
<>f  his  duty  t<>  his  wife  and  children; 

joined  to  his  own  did  not  amount  to 
sixpence:  my  wife  brought  me  in 
money  and  land  28,000/.  I  advanced 
him  all  he  wanted  without  a  security, 
but  in  return  he  is  not  content  with 
an  ample  security  for  advancing 
nothing  at  all  but  what  he  derived 
from  his  connexion  with  me." — 
Boulton  to  Matthews,  28th  June, 
1781.  Boulton  MSS. 


methods  by  which  the  same  objects  were  to  be  accom- 
plished, without  borrowing  from  Watt ;  at  all  events  it 
was  worth  trying.  Hence  the  number  of  mechanical 
schemers  who  made  their  appearance  almost  simul- 
taneously in  all  parts  of  the  country,  and  the  number  of 
new  methods  of  various  kinds  contrived  by  them  for 
the  production  of  motive  power. 

Watt  was  very  soon  informed  of  the  schemes  which 
were  on  foot  in  his  immediate  neighbourhood — much 
too  soon  for  his  peace  of  mind.  He  at  once  wrote  to 
his  partner :  "  Some  Camborne  gentlemen  (supposed 
to  be  Bonze  and  Trevi thick)  have  invented  a  new 
engine  which  they  say  beats  ours  two-thirds,  and  one  of 
the  partners  has  gone  to  London  to  procure  a  patent 
for  it.  A  Mr.  Yice  says  he  has  also  invented  a  new 
engine,  and  that  they  have  stolen  his  and  compounded 
it  with  ours ;  he  intends  to  take  out  a  caveat  against 
them." l  Though  Bonze  was  an  excellent  engineer, 
and  elicited  the  admiration  of  Watt  himself,  it  turned 
out  that  he  had  no  concern  with  the  new  invention. 
Its  projectors  proved  to  be  the  Hornblowers,  also  engi- 
neers of  considerable  local  repute.  Watt  had  befriended 
the  family,  arid  employed  them  in  erecting  his  engines, 
by  which  means  they  became  perfectly  familiar  with 
their  construction  and  mode  of  action.  Jonathan  Horn- 
blower  had  a  large  family  of  sons,  of  whom  Jabez, 
Jesse,  Jethro,  and  Jonathan  were  engineers,  like  their 
father.  Jabez,  one  of  the  cleverest,  had  spent  some 
time  in  Holland,  from  whence  he  had  returned  with 
some  grand  scheme  in  his  head  for  carrying  out  an 
extensive  system  of  drainage  in  that  country.  Like  his 
father  and  the  other  sons,  he  was  employed  in  erecting 
TVatt's  engines,2  which  had  the  effect  of  directing  his 

1  Watt  to  Boulton,  24th  June,  1781. 

2  Watt  befriended  Jabez  like   the 
other  members  of  his  family,  as  ap- 
pears from  the  following  passage  in  a 

1778):— "Capt  Paul  has  turned 
Jabez  adrift,  having  for  some  time 
taken  umbrage  at  him  because  he 
would  do  his  work  well  and  therefore 

letter    to    Boulton    (6th    September,    expensively.     Jabez  has* a  bad  wile,  is 


attention  to  the  invention  of  a  new  power  which  should 
supersede  that  of  his  employer. 

It  was  for  some  time  doubtful  what  was  the  precise 
character  of  the  new  engine.  Indeed  the  Horn- 
blowers  themselves  long  remained  undecided  about  its 
actual  form,  being  still  in  the  throes  of  invention. 
They  knew  that  they  must  copy  discreetly,  so  as  not  to 
lay  themselves  too  open  to  attack ;  and  though  they 
urged  the  superiority  of  their  engine  so  strongly  as 
to  induce  several  of  the  mining  companies  to  believe 
in  them,  and  even  to  withhold  orders  from  Boulton 
and  Watt,  they  refrained  as  yet  from  publishing 
their  invention.  Watt  wrote  to  his  partner  that  he 
understood  the  Hornblowers'  engine  was  on  some  new 
principle,  and  the  only  novelty  he  could  think  of 
was  a  caloric  air-engine.  He  therefore  asked  Boulton 
to  make  all  the  inquiries  he  could  as  to  the  respective 
bulks  and  prices  per  1000  feet  of  all  possible  kinds 
of  air  in  their  most  expanded  states.  "  I  am  much 
vexed,"  he  continued,  "  by  this  affair.  Jabez  does 
not  want  abilities  :  the  rest  are  fools.  If  they  have 
really  found  a  prize,  it  will  ruin  us Bank- 
ruptcy might  ensue  to  both.  But  I  don't  fear  getting 
my  bread  independent  of  engines,  though  much  easier 
with  them."  l  Watt  was,  however,  in  error  as  to  the 
nature  of  the  Hornblowers'  engine,  which  he  discovered 
three  days  later,  when  he  wrote  Boulton,- — 

"  The  matter  is  this :  Ever  since   the  ungrateful,  idle,  insolent 
Hornblowers  knew  anything  about  our  engines,  they  have  laboured 

-  and  unhappy.    He  is  very  clever,    blower  has  disobliged  Mr.  Daniel.     I 
good    engineer,    and    industrious,  j  have  my  fears  they  will  not  employ 
though    he   seems   not   to   have   the  |  him ;  but  when  our  own  business  is 

faculty  of  conciliating  people's  affec- 
tions. I  fear  he  will  go  to  Holland,  and 
as  he  can  hurt  us  [there  being  no  patent 
for  the  engine  secured  there]  1  must 

sealed  to-morrow,  I  will  make  a  push 
in  his  favour.  That  family  hath  not 
been  successful  in  conciliating  the 
affections  of  the  people  in  this  neigh- 

try  to  get  him  bread  here."     Later,    bourhood." 

Houlton   wrote    Watt    from    Kcdruth         *  Watt    to    Boulton,    16th     Julv, 

( 1 8th  November,  1780),—"  Old  Horn-    1781. 

298  WATT  AND  THE  "  HORNERS."  CHAP.  XV. 

to  evade  our  Act,  and  for  that  purpose  have  long  been  possessed  of 
a  copy  of  our  specification.  They  made  an  attempt  at  Wheal  Maid 
two  years  ago,  by  connecting  two  cylinders  together  and  injecting 
into  one  of  them,  which  did  not  succeed,  although  they  had  gathered 
together  numbers  of  their  friends  in  order  to  make  a  great  exhibition. 
Since  that,  Jonathan  the  coppersmith,  who,  like  Alexander  of  the 
like  trade,  hath  done  me  much  evil,  has  laboured  close  at  some  more 
successful  evasion,  which  he  says  he  has  now  completed  and  taken 
a  patent  for, — concerning  which  I  hear  as  follows  from  public 
reports,  propagated  by  Jethro's  confidants  : — 1st.  That  Jonathan 
Hornblower  is  the  inventor  and  patentee ;  that  Winwood,  Jones  and 
Company,  of  Bristol,  are  his  partners  and  supporters  with  money  (that 
Winwood  was  lately  in  this  country  on  a  sleeveless  errand  is  certain)  ; 
that  they  have  made  their  model  work  to  141bs.  on  the  inch,  and 
expect  it  will  work  to  ]  8  Ibs.  2ndly.  That  they  press  the  piston  down 
by  steam,  and  maintain  they  have  a  right  to  do  so,  because,  say 
they,  it  can  be  proved  that  such  was  done  before  my  patent. 
I  suppose  by  this  they  allude  to  Gainsborough's  bauble,  which,  by- 
the-by,  was  after  the  patent.  If  they  do  not  mean  this  I  am  at  a 
loss,  as  I  now  declare  that  I  do  not  know  of  any  one  having  done  it 
before  the  patent  except  myself.  However,  it  behoves  us  to  inquire 
into  this,  and  if  the  exhibition  was  not  a  public  one  it  avails  not. 
3rdly.  That  they  pretend  to  condense  the  steam  in  the  cylinder ; 
but  I  have  heard  that  they  do  it  in  a  separate  vessel  within  the 
cylinder,  or  close  to  it.  4thly.  That  they  do  not  use  an  air  or 
water  pump,  from  which  I  conjecture  that  they  let  the  hot  water 
down  the  shaft  by  a  pipe  more  than  30  feet  long,  as  you  know  I 
proposed  but  had  several  objections  to.  You  will  remember,  and 
I  dare  say  Joseph  and  Peploe  also  do,  that  we  made  the 
Soho  cylinder  work  by  blowing  the  hot  water  out  of  the  eduction- 
pipe  and  used  no  air-pump,  but  found  a  waste  of  steam  by  so  doing. 
There  is  also  some  confused  report  about  a  wheel  being  employed 
on  their  engine,  which  makes  me  suspect  that  M.  Washborough  may 
be  the  Bristol  man  concerned  with  them."1 

Two  days  later  Watt  wrote, — "  My  principal  hope  is 
that  almighty  Nature  will  prove  Lord  Chancellor,  and 
put  a  negative  on  their  scheme.  Amen,  so  be  it!  I 
abhor  lawsuits,  and  reckon  a  cause  half  lost  that  is 

On  the  23rd  of  July  he  returned  to  the  subject:— 
"The  Homers,"  said  he,  "continue  bragging  of  what  they  are  to 

1  Watt  to  Boulton,  19th  July,  1781.    Boulton  MSS. 




do,  and  I  hear  the  country  in  general  takes  part  with  them,  as  even 
the  aversion  they  have  to  the  Homers  does  not  equal  the  pleasure 

they  would  feel  at  our  undoing The  Homers  say  they  can 

make  a  common  engine  equal  to  ours,  but  that  their  new  engine  is 
one-third  better.  We  must  now  attend  to  making  use  of  all  the 
elastic  power  of  the  steam,  which,  unless  I  am  much  deceived,  will 
save  one-half  over  our  best  engines,  and  at  any  rate  it  may  easily 
be  applied  to  work  the  condenser,  which  will  save  about  one-eighth. 
I  will  not  conceal  from  you  that  I  am  rendered  very  unhappy  by 
one  thing  and  another,  but  fight  with  it  all  I  can." 

In  the  mean  time  Boulton  continued  to  urge  Watt  to 
complete  the  specification  and  drawings  of  his  rotative 
engine,  informing  him  of  the  success  of  the  model 
which  he  had  now  completed  at  Soho  :— 

"  Though  you  studied  a  thousand  years,"  said  he,  "  I  do  not 
think  you  could  make  one  ten  per  cent,  better  than  a  small  model 
with  two  cones  which  Joseph  has  executed  after  my  drawings.  It 
has  little  friction,  goes  sweeter  than  anything  of  the  kind  you  have 
yet  touched,  and  has  not  the  least  shake.  It  is  so  perfect  that  I 
don't  consider  it  worth  while  even  to  think  of  any  other  for  hori- 
zontal motions.  I  am  therefore  positively  decided  in  my  mind  as 
to  the  necessity  of  taking  out  a  patent  and  including  in  it  all  the 
principles  and  constructions  you  please;  for  if  it  be  not  secured 
soon  we  may  lose  it." l 

In  the  same  letter,  Boulton  communicated  to  Watt  the 
rumours  that  had  reached  him  from  Scotland  of  more 
inventions  of  engines  that  were  to  beat  Watt's  out  of  the 
field.  " The  cry  is  still,  they  come!"  said  he.  " Hatley 
from  Scotland  is  going  with  Lord  Dunmore  to  Virginny ; 
says  that  he  and  somebody  else  in  Scotland  have  in- 
vented an  engine  that  is  three  times  better  than  yours/' 

1  Boulton  to  Watt,  28th  June, 
1781.  On  the  3rd  July  following  he 
writes, — "  The  great  rotative  engine 
is  finished,  and  I  expected  the  union 
between  it  and  the  little  engine  would 
have  been  performed  this  evening,  but 
it  can't  be  till  to-morrow.  Robert  set 
the  elliptic  out  so  true  that  it  had  no 
shake  and  required  no  alteration.  It 
goes  so  much  better  than  the  little 

model  made  by  Joseph  that  I  am  now 
ashamed  to  send  the  little  one.  The 
great  model  makes  a  delightful  hori- 
zontal foot -lathe.  I  gave  it  a  few 
strokes  with  my  foot,  and  it  made  30 
revolutions  after  T  withdrew  it,  and 
that  in  a  quiet  and  peaceable  manner, 
which  shows  how  steady  and  friction- 
less  it  is." 




Boulton  recommended  that  a  search  should  be  made  at 
the  Patent-Office,  to  ascertain  what  was  going  on  in 
new  engine  patents.  Watt  entirely  approved  of  this, 
and  urged  that  the  search  should  be  made  at  once.  "  I 
do  not  think  we  are  safe  a  day  to  an  end,"  he  wrote, 
"  in  this  enterprising  age.  One's  thoughts  seem  to  be 
stolen  before  one  speaks  them.  It  looks  as  if  Nature 
had  taken  an  aversion  to  monopolies,  and  put  the  same 
thing  into  several  people's  heads  at  once  to  prevent 
them ;  and  I  begin  to  fear  that  she  has  given  over 
inspiring  me,  as  it  is  with  the  utmost  difficulty  that  I 
can  hatch  anything  new." 

Notwithstanding  this  confession  on  the  part  of  Watt, 
his  inventive  faculties  were  really  never  at  any  period 
of  his  life  more  vigorous  than  now  ;  for  he  was  rapidly 
maturing  his  rotative  engine,  with  its  various  ingenious 
methods  for  securing  circular  motion ;  and  working  out 
the  details  of  the  double-cylinder  expansion  engine,  with 
its  many  admirable  contrivances  hereafter  to  be  de- 
scribed. Boulton  continued  to  receive  applications  at 
Soho,  from  various  quarters,  for  engines  capable  of 
working  flour-mills  and  other  machinery,  and  Watt 
himself  was  urged  by  like  inquiries  from  manufacturers 
in  Cornwall.  "  Mr.  Edwards,"  he  wrote  Boulton,  "  waits 
impatiently  the  success  of  our  rotative  machine.  He 
wants  a  power  able  to  lift  a  hammer  of  700  Ibs.,  2  feet 

high,  120  times  per  minute In  relation  to  the 

circular  engine,  an  experiment  should  be  made  on  a 
large  scale,  and  to  work  a  hammer.  I  want  your  ideas 
on  that  head."1  A  fortnight  later,  Watt  had  matured 
his  own  ideas,  and  made  the  necessary  declaration  of 
his  invention  before  a  magistrate,  preliminary  to  making 
the  usual  application  for  a  patent.2 

1  Watt  to  Boulton,  5th  July,  1781. 

2  "  Yesterday  I  went  to  Penryn  and 
swore  that  I   had  invented  '  certain 
new  methods. of  applying  the  vibrating 

or  reciprocating  motion  of  steam  or 
fire  engines  to  produce  a  continued  ro- 
tation or  circular  motion  round  an 
axis  or  centre,  and  thereby  to  give 


Watt  was  exceedingly  busy  about  this  time  in  super- 
intending the  erection  of  new  engines.  No  fewer  than 
twelve  were  in  progress  in  different  parts  of  the  county. 
As  he  travelled  about  from  one  mine  to  another  on 
horseback,  and  spent  a  good  deal  of  his  time  in  the  open 
air,  his  mind  was  diverted  from  preying  upon  itself 
according  to  his  ordinary  habit,  and  his  health  and 
spirits  improved  accordingly.  Boulton  was  equally  busy 
at  Soho,  where  he  was  erecting  a  powerful  engine  for 
blowing  the  furnaces  at  Walker's  ironworks  at  JRother- 
ham,  and  another  for  Wilkinson's  forges  at  Bradley,  in 
which  he  proposed  to  employ  a  double  cylinder,  with  a 
double  crank1  and  a  pair  of  fly-wheels.  At  intervals 
he  went  into  Yorkshire,  Lancashire,  and  Shropshire,  to 
look  after  various  other  engines  in  progress ;  writing 
Watt  cheerful  letters  as  to  the  improving  prospects  of 
the  firm.  He  found  the  steam-engine  everywhere 
gaining  in  public  estimation.  "  The  more  it  is  known," 
he  wrote,  "  the  more  it  will  be  in  demand.  As  to  the 
scheme  of  the  Hornblowers,  they  shall  sooner  press  me 
down  into  the  earth  than  they  shall  press  down  a  piston 
with  steam."  And  again,  "  Give  yourself  no  uneasiness 
about  the  Homers'  engine.  Our  title  to  the  invention  is 
as  clear  as  can  be ;  and  it  is  as  well  secured  as  an  Act  of 
Parliament  can  make  it — 

"  Doubt  that  the  sun  is  fire, 
Doubt  all  the  powers  of  sight, 
Doubt  truth  to  be  a  Iyer, 
But  never  doubt  our  right." 

Watt's  first  surmise,  that  the  Hornblowers  intended 
to  work  their  engine  by  heated  air  or  g^as,  had  set 
Boulton  upon  a  series  of  inquiries  and  experiments  on 

motion  to  the  wheels  of  mills  or  other    making  use  of  the  cranks.     "  In  rela- 
machines,'  which  affidavit  and  petition    tion  to  Wilkinson's  forges,  I  wish  you 

I  transmit  to  Mr.  Hadley  by  this  post 
with  directions  to  get  it  passed  with 
all  due  expedition." — Watt  to  Boulton, 
26th  July,  1781. 

Watt    suggested    caution    as    to    July,  1781. 

would  execute  them  without  the 
double  crank.  We  shall  soon  have  a 
bad  enough  lawsuit  on  our  hands 
without  it."-— Watt  to  Boulton,  10th 


the  subject,  in  which  he  was  assisted  by  Dr.  Priestley, 
who  had  shortly  before  settled  in  Birmingham,  and  was 
a  willing  co-operator  in  all  investigations  of  this  nature. 
Their  object  was  to  ascertain  whether  it  was  practicable 
to  produce  mechanical  power  by  the  absorption  and 
condensation  of  gas  on  the  one  hand,  and  by  its  disen- 
gagement and  expansion  on  the  other. 

"  What  yon  propose,"  Watt  wrote,  "  is  exceeding  probable,  and 
akin  to  what  I  have  long  contemplated — the  use  of  mixed  air 
and  steam,  which  have  a  wonderful  expansion  and  contraction. 
Nevertheless,  I  fear  that  there  is  in  all  such  cases  a  proportional 
assumption  of  latent  heat ;  but  be  it  tried  though  it  be  beginning  a 
new  series  of  vexations  and  expense.  ...  I  suspect  that  a  forcible 
compression  would  hinder  the  gas  from  separating  from  the  water, 
and  on  the  contrary  any  tolerable  degree  of  vacuum  would  hinder 
the  water  from  attracting  it ;  but  perhaps  part  of  both  may  be  used. 
.  .  .  My  greatest  hope  is  in  the  expansive  engine  with  double  or 
single  cylinder,  which  I  consider  as  proved  by  many  facts,  and 
shall  send  you  my  ideas  of  the  execution  of  it  very  soon.  At  the 
same  time  I  am  clear  to  take  the  air  patent,  which,  as  I  have  worded 
the  petition,  may  include  some  other  improvements  on  the  steam- 
engine.  ...  I  hope  my  last  letters  have  relieved  you,  as  the 
knowledge  of  the  Homers'  being  a  steam-engine  working  on  our 
principle  relieved  me.  I  have  some  trust  in  tl^e  judges,  though  I 
have  little  in  the  law ;  and  I  think  impartial  people  will  regard  us 
as  injured  persons,  and  not  suffer  the  thief  of  our  horse  to  escape 
because  he  has  painted  him  of  another  colour."  ' 

Watt's  fears  for  his  patent  were  about  this  time 
excited  anew  by  the  great  Arkwright  trial,  in  which 
Arkwright  was  nonsuited,  and  compelled  to  forego  the 
rights  derived  from  his  improvements  and  combinations 
of  spinning-machinery.  The  principal  ground  on  which 
the  patent  was  set  aside  was  that  the  specification  was 
unintelligible.  On  this,  Watt  observed,— 

"  Though  I  do  not  love  Arkwright,  I  don't  like  the  precedent  of 

1  Watt    to    Boulton,    28th    July,  I  "  there  is  nothing  to  be  feared  from 

1781.  A  few  days  later  Boulton 
wrote  Watt  that  Dr.  Priestley  had  pro- 
ceeded with  the  experiments,  and  that 
he  had  come  to  the  conclusion  that 

any  of  the  tribe  of  gases,  which  cannot 
be  produced  nearly  so  cheap  as  steam  ; 
and  as  to  steam  you  know  its  limits 
better  than  any  man." 




setting  aside  patents  through  default  of  specification.  I  fear  for  our 
own.  The  specification  is  not  perfect  according  to  the  rules  lately 
laid  down  by  the  judges.  Nevertheless,  it  cannot  be  said  that  we 
have  hid  our  candle  under  a  bushel.  We  have  taught  all  men  to 
erect  our  engines,  and  are  likely  to  suffer  for  our  pains.  ...  I  begin 
to  have  little  faith  in  patents ;  for,  according  to  the  enterprising 
genius  of  the  present  age,  no  man  can  have  a  profitable  patent  but 
it  will  be  pecked  at,  and  no  man  can  write  a  specification  of  a  fire- 
engine  that  cannot  be  evaded,  if  the  words  and  not  the  true  intent, 
and  meaning  be  attended  to.  As  kissing  goes  by  favour,  and  as,  in 
dubious  cases,  men  are  actuated  by  their  prejudices,  so,  where  a  blue 
is  very  like  a  green  they  may  decide  either  way."  * 

Watt  continued  to  be  alarmed  by  the  rumours  of 
the  forthcoming  Hornblowers5  engine.  "  I  have  heard," 
lie  wrote,  "  that  a  female  confidant  of  Jonathan's  has 
seen  the  engine,  and  says  that  they  evaporate  half 

a  hogshead  of  water  with  one  ounce  of  coals ! 

that  in  a  few  days  they  are  to  publish  in  print  what 
their  invention  is,  illustrated  with  a  copper-plate. 
Then  we  shall  see  and  admire,  if  God  pleaseth;  I  hope 
we  shall  not  believe  and  tremble."  Later  he  wrote, 
—"Our  cause  is  good,  and  yet  it  has  a  bad  aspect. 
We  are  called  monopolists,  and  exactors  of  money  from 
the  people  for  nothing.  Would  to  God  the  money  and 
price  of  the  time  the  engine  has  cost  us  were  in  our 
pockets  again,  and  the  devil  might  then  have  the 
draining  of  their  mines  in  place  of  me.  Yet  all  are  not 
alike.  Some  are  just,  and  I  believe  do  not  grudge  us, 

1  Watt  to  Boulton,  30th  July, 
1781.  Later  he  wrote, — "  I  am  tired 
of  making  improvements  which  by 
some  quirk  or  wresting  of  the  law 
may  be  taken  from  us,  as  I  think 
has  been  done  in  the  case  of  Ark- 
wright,  who  has  been  condemned 
merely  because  he  did  not  specify 
quite  clearly.  This  was  injustice, 
because  it  is  plain  that  he  has  given 
this  trade  a  being — has  brought  his 
invention  into  use  and  made  it  of 
great  public  utility.  Wherefore  he 
nil  the  money  lie  has  got.  : 

In  my  opinion  his  patent  should  not 
have  been  invalidated  without  it  had 
clearly  appeared  that  he  did  not  invent 
the  things  in  question.  1  fear  we 
shall  be  served  with  the  same  sauce 
for  the  good  of  the  public  I  and  in 
that  case  I  shall  certainly  do  what  he 
threatens.  This  you  may  be  assured 
of,  that  we  are  as  much  envied  here 
as  he  is  at  Manchester,  and  all  the 
hells  in  Cornwall  would  be  rung  at 
our  overthrow." — Watt  to  Boulton, 
13th  August,  1781. 


and  some  are  friendly.  All  this  is  to  no  purpose.  The 
law  must  decide  whether  we  have  property  in  this  affair 
or  not,  and  we  must  submit  to  what  we  cannot  help."  l 

At  length  Watt  learnt  the  precise  nature  of  the  Horn- 
blowers'  invention.  "It  is  no  less,"  he  wrote  Boulton, 
"  than  our  double-cylinder  engine,  worked  upon  our 
principle  of  expansion."  This  was  an  old  idea  of  Watt's, 
which  he  had  pursued  while  labouring  upon  his  model 
at  Kinneil.  "  It  is  fourteen  years,"  he  said,  "  since  I 
thought  of  the  double-cylinder  engine,  and  I  think  that 
I  mentioned  it  to  Mr.  Smeaton,  when  I  explained  the 
expansion  engine  to  him  in  your  parlour,  some  years 
ago.  Wm.  Murdock  and  Mr.  Henderson  can  testify  to 
my  having  mentioned  it  to  them ;  but  this  of  the 
Homers  seems  to  be  a  different  thing,  being  hung  on 
the  same  beam." 2  As  early  as  May,  1769,  he  had  com- 
municated to  Dr.  Small  a  clear  and  explicit  description 
of  his  method  of  working  steam  expansively ;  and  he 
adopted  the  principle -in  the  Soho  engine,  in  1778,  as 
well  as  in  the  Shad  well  engine  erected  in  the  same  year. 
He  was,  however,  prevented  carrying  it  out  extensively 
in  practice  by  the  inexpertness  of  the  workmen. 
"  Though  the  effect  of  the  steam,"  he  explained  to  a  cor- 
respondent, "  is  thereby  increased  50  per  cent,  (by  theory 
100  per  cent.),  it  cannot  be  done  without  rendering  the 
machine  more  complicated  than  we  wish ;  and  simplicity 
is  a  most  essential  point  in  mechanics.  There  are  other 
contrivances  known  to  us  which  would  increase  the 
effect  in  an  inferior  degree,  say  from  one-fourth  to  one- 
sixth,  but  they  are  all  attended  with  peculiar  inconve- 
niences which  forbid  their  use  until  the  illiterate  and 
obstinate  people  who  are  intrusted  with  the  care  of  the 
engines  become  more  intelligent  and  better  acquainted 
with  the  machine."  3 

1  Watt  to  Boulton,  13th  November,  •  1791. 

1781.  3  Watt  to  Samuel  Ewer,  jun.,  9th 

*  Watt  to  Boulton,  19th  November,    July,  1781.     Boulton  MSS. 


Though  suffering  much  from  his  usual  headaches, 
which  frequently  disabled  him  from  thinking,  Watt 
finished  the  drawings  of  the  rotary  engine  in  a  week, 
and  forwarded  them  to  Boulton  at  Soho.  "  I  believe," 
he  said  in  a  later  letter,  "  a  well-regulated  expansive- 
engine  is  the  ne  plus  ultra  of  our  art."  But  he  intimated 
that  a  new  trouble  had  come  upon  him  in  the  shape  of 
another  inventor  of  a  steam-engine  in  which  all  the  dis- 
tinctive principles  of  his  own  invention  were  embodied. 
"  If  he  be  engine  mad,"  said  Watt,  "  and  if  it  be  agree- 
able to  you,  he  shall  have  my  share  of  them,  provided 
he  will  come  to  my  price.  I  wish  to  retire,  and  eat  my 
cake  in  peace,  but  will  not  go  without  the  cake.  All 
mankind  seem  to  have  resolved  to  rob  us.  Eight  or 
wrong,  they  will  pluck  the  meal  from  our  mouths." 1 
Boulton,  on  his  next  journey  to  London,  called  upon  the 
alleged  inventor,  a  Mr.  Ewer,  and  declared  to  Watt  that 
the  invention,  so  far  as  it  was  new,  was  not  worth  a 
farthing,  and  that  all  that  was  good  in  it  was  borrowed 
from  their  engine.  "  Though  the  white  marks  on  your 
cow  or  your  horse,"  said  he,  "  may  be  changed  to  black, 
the  cow  and  horse  are  not  the  less  your  property."  He 
therefore  counselled  Watt  to  relieve  himself  of  all 
anxiety  on  this  account.  Watt  replied,  "  Ewer  seems  to 
have  a  genius  more  capable  of  inventing  than  of  pru- 
dently examining  the  merits  of  his  invention.  Poets 
lose  half  the  praise  they  would  otherwise  get  did  they 
but  tell  us  what  they  discreetly  blot.  We  must  publish 
a  book  of  blots." 

Meanwhile  Watt  went  on  inventing,  even  while  he 
was  complaining  of  his  inability  to  invent,  and  of  the 
uselessness  of  inventing.  Invention  had  grown  into  a 
habit  with  him,  which  he  could  not  restrain.  In  the 
very  letter  in  which  he  wrote  "It  is  of  no  use  inventing 
—everybody  is  seizing  upon  our  schemes,"  he  commu- 

Watt  to  Boulton,  30th  August,  1781. 




OLD  ENGINE-HOUSE   AT   DALCOATH.     [By  R.  P.  Leitch.] 

nicated  to  Boulton  that  he  had  contrived  a  machine,  then 
erecting  at  Dalcoath,  for  the  purpose  of  stopping  the 
engine  when  at  full  speed,  when  any  accident  happened 
to  the  rods  or  outside  chains, — first  taking  away  the 
power,  and  then  holding  the  bob  fast  whenever  it  might 
be  at  the  turn.1  A  few  days  later  he  communicated 
that  he  had  contrived  a  new  way  of  opening  the  regu- 
lators. He  was  also  finishing  his  plan  of  the  new 
equalising  beam,  and  the  double  expansion  engine, 

1  Watt  to  Boulton,  30th  August, 
1781.  In  a  subsequent  letter  he  ex- 
plained the  invention  as  follows : — 
"  The  method  I  propose  to  stop  an 
engine  when  the  pump  rods  break 
is  by  means  of  an  air  bellows  or 
forcing  pump  of  a  good  large  diameter 
fixed  in  the  shaft  and  having  a  solid 
piston  in  it  which  is  wrought  con- 
stantly by  the  engine  and  quite  easily 
while  it  goes  at  its  ordinary  speed, 
because  there  is  a  large  valve  open 
in  its  bottom  or  rather  top,  which 
suffers  the  air  to  pass  and  repass  easily  ; 

but  whenever  the  engine  attempts  to 
move  quick,  that  valve  shuts  and  all 
exit  from  the  air  is  cut  off,  and  it 
becomes  a  feather-bed  to  save  the 
blow  of  the  engine.  This  is  exempli- 
fied by  turning  the  valve-hole  of  a 
common  bellows  upwards  and  stopping 
the  nozzle,  then  working  the  bellows 
first  slowly  and  then  quickly.  I 
think  this  contrivance  will  be  of  great 
use  and  may  prevent  damage,  espe- 
cially those  bangs  which  occur  in 
setting  on  an  engine." — Watt  to 
Boulton,  27th  September,  1781. 




which  he  requested  might  be  proceeded  with  at  once. 
"  I  have  shown  the  equalising  beam,"  said  he,  "  to  no 
person  whatever.  Please  push  it  on.  It  is  our  dernier 
ressort,  and  may  perhaps  be  all  that  villany  will  leave 
us,  and  that  not  long."  Boulton  wrote  back,  bidding 
his  partner  to  be  of  good  heart.  "  If  our  spirits  don't 
fail  us,"  said  he,  "  I  think  our  engine  won't." 

At  the  same  time  Watt  was  inventing  his  new 
jointed  top-working  gear,  which  he  reported  answered 
exceedingly  well  with  the  Dalcoath  engine ;  and,  in 
pursuance  of  an  idea  thrown  out  by  Boulton,  he  per- 
fected the  model  of  a  horizontal-axled  elliptical  with  one 
pulley,  which  he  described  as  performing  a  merveille, 
being  free  from  all  untoward  frictions.  He  was  also 
busy  inventing  a  new  method  of  an  equalising  beam, 
by  causing  the  gudgeon  to  change  its  place;  and 
another  by  means  of  a  roller  acting  upon  a  curve  in 
the  nature  of  the  working  gear.  Besides  his  experi- 
ments in  mechanics,  he  was  prosecuting  investigations 
as  to  the  properties  of  nutgalls  in  combination  with 
various  chemical  substances,  for  the  purpose  of  obtaining 
the  best  kind  of  ink  for  use  with  his  copying  machines ; 
and  at  another  time  we  find  him  contriving  various 
iron  cements  for  joints,  confessing  that  he  had  "  lost  all 
faith  in  putty ;"  the  result  of  which  was  his  discovery  of 
the  well-known  metallic  cement. 

In  the  correspondence  between  the  partners  on  these 
various  topics,  w^e  seem  to  see  the  ideas  out  of  which  so 
many  inventions  grew,  in  their  various  stages  of  birth, 

1  Boulton  to  Watt,  10th  September, 
1781.  Boulton  immediately  pro- 
ceeded with  the  erection  of  the  new 
engine  as  secretly  as  possible.  "  The 
principles  of  the  expansion  engine," 
said  he  to  Watt,  "  you  had  invented 
before  Dr.  Small  died,  as  Mr.  Keir 
can  testify  as  well  as  others.  However, 
it  is  highly  proper  to  execute  every 
kind  of  beam  that  can  be  devised  for 

the  purpose  of  equalising  the  power. 
I  have  removed  the  little  portions  into 
the  wooden  house  next  the  smith's 
shop,  and  have  blinded  the  window 
and  barred  the  door.  There  is  a  con- 
venient well  that  can  be  filled  from 
the  back  brook,  and  the  engine  may 
be  applied  to  the  raising  of  water, 
which  is  the  best  sort  of  load  to  calcu- 
late from." 

x  2 


growth  and  development.  They  concealed  nothing 
from  each  other,  but  wrote  with  the  most  perfect 
unreserve.  Each  improved  on  the  other's  ideas, — Watt 
upon  Boulton's,  and  Boulton  upon  Watt's ;  both  expe- 
rimenting on  the  same  subject  at  the  same  time,  and 
communicating  the  results  in  the  most  elaborate  detail. 
The  phrase  often  occurs  in  their  letters  :  "  I  write  thus 
fully  that  you  may  see  exactly  what  is  passing  in  my 
mind!'  The  letters  were  sometimes  of  extraordinary 
length,  one  of  Boulton's  (dated  25th  September,  1781) 
extending  to  eight  pages  folio,  closely  written,  con- 
taining upwards  of  4000  words.  Scarcely  a  day  passed 
without  their  spending  several  hours  in  writing  to  each 
other.  Boulton  also  kept  up  a  correspondence  with 
Mrs.  Watt,  in  addition  to  his  elaborate  letters  to  her 
husband.  The  lady  entered  into  various  matters  of  per- 
sonal interest,  describing  her  occupations  and  domestic 
pursuits,  and  communicating  the  state  of  her  husband's 
health,  which  was  a  matter  of  no  less  interest  to  Boulton 
than  to  herself. 

As  the  autumn  set  in  with  its  fogs  and  rains,  Watt's 
headaches  returned  with  increased  severity,  and  he 
repeatedly  complained  to  Boulton  of  being  "  stupid  and 
ill,  and  scarcely  able  to  think."  "  I  tremble,"  said  he, 
"  at  the  thought  of  making  a  complete  set  of  drawings. 
I  wish  you  could  find  me  out  a  draughtsman  of  abilities ; 
as  I  cannot  stand  it  much  longer." ]  Watt's  temper  was 
also  affected  by  the  state  of  his  health ;  and  he  con- 
fessed that  he  felt  himself  not  at  all  cut  out  for  the 
work  he  had  to  do,  so  far  as  related  to  business  :  "I  am 
not  philosopher  enough,"  he  said,  "  to  despise  the  ills  of 
life ;  and  when  I  suffer  myself  to  get  into  a  passion, 
I  observe  it  hurts  me  more  than  it  does  anybody  else. 
I  never  was  cut  out  for  business,  and  wish  nothing  so 
much  as  not  to  be  obliged  to  do  any;  which  perhaps 

Watt  to  Boulton,  20th  {September,  1781. 


will  never  fall  to  my  lot;  therefore  I  must  drag  on  a 
miserable  existence  the  best  way  I  can."  1 

Watt  was  very  busy  at  this  time  in  preparing  the 
specification  and  drawings  of  the  circular  motion,  which 
he  said  he  found  an  extremely  difficult  job  owing  to  the 
distracted  state  of  his  head.  The  letters  patent  for 
the  invention  had  been  secured  on  the  25th  October, 
1781,  and  he  had  four  months  allowed  him  in  which  to 
prepare  and  lodge  the  full  description.  He  laboured  at 
his  work  late  and  early,  his  mind  being  for  months  in  the 
throes  of  invention.  In  the  beginning  of  November  we 
find  him  writing  to  Boulton,  sending  him  the  "  first  three 
yards  of  the  specification,"  written  out  on  folio  sheets 
joined  together.  Watt's  letters  to  his  partner  at  this 
time  contain  numerous  rough  sketches  of  his  proposed 
methods  for  securing  circular  motion  without  using  the 
crank,  from  which  he  conceived  himself  to  be  in  a 
measure  precluded  by  Pickard's  patent.  He  devised 
no  fewer  than  five  distinct  methods  by  which  this  object 
might  be  accomplished,  by  means  of  wheels  of  various 
sorts  rotating  round  an  axis. 
The  method  eventually  pre- 
ferred was  the  one  invented 
by  Wm.  Murdock,  and  com- 
monly known  as  the  sun  and 
planet  motion.2  "It  has  the 
singular  property,"  said  Watt, 
"  of  going  twice  round  for  each 
stroke  of  the  engine,  and  may 
be  made  to  go  oftener  round 
if  required  without  additional 

T»  llil  P   ±1  SDN  -AND  PLANET  MOTION 

Eough  sketches  of  these  va- 
rious methods  were  forwarded  to  Soho  in  order  that  the 
requisite  careful  drawings  of  them  might  be  prepared  in 

1  Watt  to  Boulton,  18th  October,  1781. 

2  Watt,  in  a  letter  to  Boulton,  dated  the  3rd  July,  1782,  speaks  of  it 




time  to  be  lodged  with  the  specification ;  but  when  they 
reached  Watt  in  Cornwall,  he  declared  them  to  be  so 
clumsily  executed  that  he  could  not  for  very  shame  send 
them  in ;  and  though  greatly  pressed  by  mining  business, 
and  suffering  from  "  backache,  headache,  and  lowness 
of  spirits,"  he  set  to  work  to  copy  them  with  his  own 
hands.  He  worked  up  his  spare  time  so  diligently, 
that  in  ten  days  he  had  the  plans  finished  and  returned 
to  Boulton,  whom  he  wrote  saying  that  he  had  im- 
proved the  construction  of  several  of  the  machines, 
and  "  got  one  copy  of  the  specification  drawing  finished 
in  an  elegant  manner  upon  vellum,  being  the  neatest 
drawing  he  had  ever  made." ]  The  necessary  measures 
being  then  taken  to  perfect  the  patent,  it  was  duly 
enrolled  on  the  23rd  February,  1782. 

During  the  time  that  Watt  was  busy  completing  the 
above  specification  and  drawings,  his  mind  was  full  of 
other  projects,  one  of  which  was  the  perfecting  of  his 
new  expansive  engine.2  It  is  curious  to  find  him,  in 
his  letters  to  Boulton,  anticipating  the  plan  of  super- 
heating the  steam  before  entering  the  cylinders,  which 
has  since  been  carried  into  effect  with  so  much  success. 

as  an  old  plan  of  his  own  "  revived 
and  executed  by  William  Murdock  ;" 
but  we  were  informed  by  the  late 
Mr.  Josiah  Parkes,  that  at  an  inter- 
view which  he  had  with  Mr.  Watt  at 
Heathfield,  at  which  Murdock  was 
present,  Murdock  spoke  of  the  Sun 
and  Planet  motion  as  his  invention, 
which  Watt  did  not  contradict. 
Boulton  also  attributed  the  invention 
to  Murdock,  as  appears  from  his  letter 
to  Henderson,  dated  22nd  January, 
1782;  in  which  he  says, — "Mr.  Watt's 
packet  is  not  ready.  1  am  to  wait  till 
his  drawings  [of  the  rotatory  motion] 
are  completed,  which  he  is  executing 
himself.  There  was  some  informality 
in  those  sent  from  Soho.  Besides,  he 
has  another  rotative  scheme  to  add, 
which  I  could  have  told  him  of  long 
ago,  when  first  invented  by  William 
Murdock,  but  I  did  not  think  it  a 

matter  of  much  consequence." 

1  Watt  to  Boulton,  26th  Jan.,  1782. 

2  "  1  have  some  time  ago  thought," 
wrote   Watt,   "  of  a   new   expansive 
engine— a  reciprocating  engine  with  a 
heavy  circular  fly  moved  by  a  pinion 
from  the  end  of  the  beam,  so  as  to 
make  three  turns  per  down-stroke  and 
as  many  contrariwise  per  return;  so 
that  in. the  first  half  of  the  stroke  it 
may  acquire  a  momentum  which  will 
carry  it  through  the  last  half;  and  if 
a  weight  equal  to  half  the  load  be  put 
upon  the  inner  end  of  the  beam,  and 
the  engine  be  made  to  lift  it  during 
the    return,    by   making    a    vacuum 
above   the  piston   and   using  a  rack 
instead  of  a  chain,  a  cylinder  of  the 
present  size  may  work  to  the  same 
depth  by  half  the  steam ;  and  I  believe 
the  engine  will  work  very  sweetly."— 
Watt  to  Boulton,  16th  January,  1782. 


By  the  middle  of  March  he  had  sufficiently  matured 
his  ideas  of  a  reciprocating  expansive  engine  to  enable 
him  to  take  out  letters  patent,  and  the  invention  was 
enrolled  on  the  4th  of  July  in  the  same  year.  It 
included  the  double  engine  and  double-acting  engine 
(steam  pressing  the  piston  upwards  as  well  as  down- 
wards), the  employment  of  steam  on  the  expansive 
principle,  various  methods  of  equalising  the  power  of 
the  engine,  the  toothed  rack  and  sector  for  guiding 
the  piston-rod,  and  a  rotative  engine  or  steam-wheel. 
While  perfecting  these  beautiful  adaptations,  Watt  was 
often  plunged  in  the  depths  of  distress  through  many 
causes, — by  sickness,  headaches,  and  low  spirits ;  by 
the  pecuniary  difficulties  of  the  firm;  by  the  repeated 
attempts  of  the  Cornish  miners  to  lower  their  dues ;  and 
by  threatened  invasions  of  his  patent  from  all  quarters. 
Another  of  his  worries  was  the  unsteadiness  of  his 
workmen.  His  letters  to  Boulton  were  full  of  com- 
plaints on  this  score.  Excepting  Wm.  Murdock,  who 
was  in  constant  demand,  there  was  scarcely  one  of  them 
on  whom  he  could  place  reliance.  "  We  have  very 
little  credit,  indeed,"  said  he,  "  in  our  Soho  workmen. 
James  Taylor  has  taken  to  dram-drinking  at  a  most 
violent  rate, — is  obstinate,  self-willed,  and  dissatisfied." 
And  again,  "  Cartwright's  engine  has  been  a  continued 
scene  of  botching  and  blunders.  J.  Smith  and  the  rest 
are  ignorant,  and  all  of  them  must  be  looked  at  daily, 
or  worse  follows.  Had  I  had  any  one  man  of  common 
prudence  and  experience,  who  would  have  attended 
from  morning  till  night,  these  things  might  have  been 
avoided,  and  my  life  would  have  been  more  comfortable. 
As  things  are,  it  is  much  otherwise."1  Three  months 
later,  matters  had  not  mended.  J.  Smith  is  pronounced 
"  a  very  slow  hand,"  and  "  J.  Taylor  is  sometimes  three 
days  together  at  the  alehouse,  except  when  he  judged  I 

1  Watt  to  Boulton,  20th  September,  1781. 




should  be  going  my  rounds Dick  -Cartwright 

also  continues  too  much  devoted  to  beer I  have 

read  all  our  men  lectures  upon  industry  and  good 
hours,  though  I  fear  it  will  not  be  to  much  purpose ; 
idleness  is  ingrained  in  their  constitution."  Boulton 
wrote  to  him  to  "  send  home  the  most  rascally  of  the 
Sohoites ; "  but  this  was  impracticable,  as  better  men  to 
replace  them  were  not  at  that  time  to  be  had.  Things 
were  quite  as  bad  at  Soho  itself;  for  early  in  1782  we 
find  Boulton  writing  thus  :  "  The  forging-shop  wants  a 
total  reformation  ;  Peploe  and  others  constantly  drunk  ; 
spoke  mildly  to  them  at  first,  then  threatened,  and  am 
now  looking  out  for  good  hands,  which  are  very 

William  Murdock  was  by  far  the  ablest  and  most 
efficient  of  the  Soho  men,  and  won  golden  opinions 
in  all  quarters;  so  much  so,  that  he  was  in  constant 
request.  We  find  him  described  as  "  flying  from  mine 
to  mine,"  putting  the  engines  to  rights.  If  anything 
went  wrong,  Murdock  was  immediately  sent  for.  He 
was  active,  quick-sighted,  shrewd,  indefatigable,  and  an 
excellent  workman.  His  wages,  down  to  1780,  were 
only  205.  a  week,  and,  thinking  himself  worth  more,  he 
asked  for  an  advance  to  two  guineas.  Boulton,  instead 
of  refusing,  adroitly  managed  to  obtain  a  present  of  ten 
guineas  from  the  owners  of  the  United  Mines,  to  which 
he  added  other  ten,  in  acknowledgment  of  the  admirable 

1  Watt  to  Boulton,  20th  December, 

2  Boulton  to   Watt,    26th   March, 
1782.     The  following  was  Boulton's 
method  of  dealing  with  a  refractory  and 
drunken  workman: — "I  told  you  in 
my   former  letters   how  Jim  Taylor 
had  gone  on,— that  I  had  talked  to  him 
in  a  friendly  way  but  all  to  no  purpose. 
He  came  last  Monday  evening  to  the 
smith's   shop,   drank  more    ale,    was 
sent   for,  and  he  became   abusive  to 
the  men,  saying  we  had  nobody  could 
work  well  but  himself,  and  that  we 

could  not  do  without  him.  The  next 
morning  I  went  into  the  shop  pre- 
determined to  part  with  him.  I 
stopped  the  noise  of  bellows  and 
hammers,  and  appealed  to  the  jury  of 
the  shop  for  the  justice  of  my  deter- 
mination, and  made  the  best  use  I 
could  of  the  example.  I  sent  Taylor 
off  with  deserved  contempt,  and  to 
convince  him  that  we  really  could  do 
without  him.  However  we  are  very 
much  behind  hand  in  nozzles."— 
Boulton  to  Watt,-  19th  April, 


manner  in  which  he  had  erected  their  new  engine ;  Mr. 
Beauchamp,  the  Chairman  of  the  Company,  having 
publicly  declared  that  "he  regarded  William  as  the 
most  obliging  and  industrious  workman  he  had  ever 
known."  Though  Murdock's  wages  were  not  then 
raised,  and  though  Bonze,  the  Cornish  engineer — a  man 
of  means  as  well  as  of  skill  and  experience — invited 
him  to  join  in  an  engineering  partnership,  William 
remained  loyal  to  the  Boulton  and  Watt  firm,  and  in 
due  time  he  had  his  reward. 

Murdock's  popularity  with  the  Cornishmen  increased 
so  much  that  Watt  seems  to  have  grown  somewhat 
jealous  of  him,  for  when  William  was  to  be  had,  they 
preferred  him  to  Watt  himself.1  At  Wheal  Yirgin, 
the  adventurers  insisted  upon  having  him  all  to  them- 
selves ;  but  this  was  not  practicable,  as  there  were  other 
engines  in  progress  requiring  constant  attention, — 
Wheal  Crenver,  which  Watt  described  as  "in  the 
enemy's  country,  Pool  hardly  completed  yet,  and  Dal- 
coath  in  its  childhood." 

"  I  cannot  now  leave  Wheal  Virgin  a  single  day,"  wrote  Watt, 
"  without  running  the  risk  of  some  vile  blunder,  particularly  as  the 
boilers  are  now  setting.  Win.  Murdock  was  at  Wheal  Virgin  one 
day  this  week,  and  that  day  was  taken  up  with  Mr.  Wedgwood,2  so 

1  "  To-day  was  account  day  at 
Wheal  Virgin,  when  there  was  nothing 
remarkable,  only  that  Mr.  Phillips 
insisted  upon  William  Murdock 
being  wholly  at  Wheal  Virgin,  which 

Watt  to  Boulton,    15th    November, 

2  One  of  the  pleasantest  events 
that  occurred  to  Watt  in  the  course 
of  his  stay  in  Cornwall,  was  the  visit 

I  told  him  could  not  possibly  be  com-  j  of  Wedgwood,  who  had  come  to 
plied  with,  unless  I  went  to  Crenver  inspect  some  of  the  mines  in  which, 
in  his  place,  as  I  had  nobody  else  on  Boulton's  recommendation,  he  had 

to  send  thither;  nevertheless,  that 
William  should  be  here  as  much  as 
possible.  This  did  not  satisfy  him, 
and  1  know  not  what  to  do,  as  Crenver 
will  be  ready  to  work  in  three  weeks 

and    must   not   be   delayed I 

think  my  personal  attendance  should 
satisfy  Wheal  Virgin  adventurers,  but 
as  they  seem  to  have  more  confidence 
in  William,  I  will  for  peace's  sake 

taken  an  interest,  and  at  the  same 
time  to  search  for  clays  for  use  in  his 
earthenware  and  porcelain  manufac- 
ture at  Etruria.  "  Mr.  Wedgwood," 
he  wrote  Boulton,  "has  been  in  this 
country  some  days  hunting  clays  and 
soap  rocks,  cobalts,  &c.  I  have  had 
two  visits  of  him  at  the  expense  of  a 
day  and  a  half.  Nevertheless  I  don't 
grudge  that,  as  I  am  glad  to  see  a 

yield  to  their  will,  .being  satisfied  that  |  Christian.     He  has  just   left  me.' 
William  will  do  the  business  well."—    Watt  to  Boulton,  18th  October,  1781. 




that  it  was  partly  lost.  Yesterday  he  was  taken  away  by  Crenver 
people  and  is  not  returned.  I  fear  I  cannot  get  much  of  his  help, 
and  I  assure  you  I  need  it  much,  for  there  cannot  be  a  greater 
plague  than  to  have  five  engines  making  by  ignorant  men  and  no 
helpmate  to  look  after  them.  I  have  been  tolerably  well  these  few 
days,  but  cannot  get  up  my  spirits,  from  having  too  much  to  think 

Combined  with  the  troubles  arising  out  of  the  per- 
versities, blunderings,  and  bad  conduct  of  his  workmen, 
Watt  had  also  to  struggle  against  torment  of  mind  and 
body,  aggravated  by  bad  news  from  home.  Boulton 
was  in  the  crisis  of  his  troubles  with  his  partner 
Fothergill,  from  which  he  was  desperately  struggling 
to  shake  himself  free.1 

Watt  was  made  additionally  miserable  by  the  state  of 
the  bankers'  account,  which  was  still  overdrawn  to  a 
very  large  amount.  The  bankers  were  urgent  for 
repayment,  but  neither  of  the  partners  saw  where  the 
money  was  to  come  from.  Watt  again  thought  of 
giving  up  altogether,  and  selling  his  share  of  the 
business  as  the  only  means  of  relief  which  presented 

"  I  am  almost  moved,"  he  wrote,  "  if  Lowe,  Vere,  and  Williams 
will  free  me  from  any  demands  on  my  future  industry,  to  give  up 
my  present  property  altogether,  and  trust  to  Providence  for  my 
support.  I  cannot  live  as  I  am  with  any  degree  of  comfort.  The 
want  of  the  superfluities  of  life  is  a  trifle  compared  with  continual 
anxiety.  I  do  not  see  how  you  can  pay  L.  V.  &  W.  WOOL  per 

1  Fothergill  died  insolvent  in  1782. 
Notwithstanding  what  he  had  suffered 
by  the  connexion,  Boulton  acted  with 
great  generosity  towards  Fothergill's 
family,  providing  for  his  widow  and 
orphan  children.  "  Whatever  the 
conduct  of  any  part  of  that  family 
towards  me  may  have  been,"  said  he, 
"  their  present  distresses  turn  every 
passion  into  tender  pity.  I  waited 
upon  Mrs.  Fothergill  this  morning, 
and  administered  all  the  consolation 
that  words  could  give,  but  I  must  do 
more,  or  their  distresses  will  be  great 
indeed.  I  never  wished  for  life  and 

health  so  fervently  as  at  present ;  for  I 
consider  it  my  duty  to  act  as  a  father 
to  that  family  to  the  best  of  my 
power,  and  the  addition  of  a  widow 
and  seven  children  is  no  small  one." 
Boulton  was  as  good  as  his  promises ; 
and  he  not  only  helped  the  Fothergill 
family  through  their  difficulties,  but 
he  undertook  to  pay  an  annual  sum 
(though  under  no  obligation  to  do  so) 
to  a  Mrs.  Swelling-rebel — a  widowed 
lady  from  whom  Fothergill  had  ob- 
tained money  which  he  lost;  and 
who,  but  for  Boulton's  generous  help, 
must  have  been  left  destitute. 


quarter ;  I  am  sure  it  cannot  be  from  the  engine  business,  unless 
we  can  reduce  the  amount  of  our  general  expenses  to  0  and  live 
upon  air  ourselves.  .  .  .  Though  you  and  I  should  entirely  lose  this 
business  and  all  its  profits,  you  will  get  quit  of  a  burdensome  debt ; 
and  as  both  of  us  lived  before  it  had  a  being,  so  we  may  do  after- 
wards. Therefore  consider  what  can  be  done,  and  do  it  without 
reluctance,  or  with  as  little  as  you  can ;  and  depend  upon  it  that  I 
am  sincerely  your  friqnd,  and  shall  push  you  to  nothing  that  I  do 
not  think  to  be  for  your  advantage."  l 

Two  days  later,  while  still  in  a  heavily  desponding 
humour,  he  wrote  thus  :— 

"  If  matters  were  to  come  to  the  worst,  many  methods  may  be 
fallen  upon  whereby  we  may  preserve  some  consequence  in  the 
world.  A  hundred  hours  of  melancholy  will  not  pay  one  farthing 
of  debt.  Summon  up  your  fortitute  and  try  to  turn  your  attention 
to  business,  and  to  correct  the  abuses  at  Soho.  .  .  .  All  the  idlers 
should  be  told  that  in  case  they  persevere  in  want  of  attention,  then 
dismission  must  ensue.  .  .  .  The  Soho  part  of  the  business  has  been 
somehow  a  perpetual  drain  to  us,  and  if  it  cannot  be  put  on  a  better 
footing,  must  be  cut  off  altogether  by  giving  out  the  work  to  be 
done  by  others." 2 

To  add  to  their  troubles,  a  fire  broke  out  in  the  house 
of  Boulton  and  Watt's  London  agent  for  the  sale  of  their 
copying  machines,  and  the  building,  with  its  contents, 
was  burnt  to  the  ground,  thereby  causing  a  loss  to  the 
firm  of  above  a  thousand  pounds.  The  mining  trade 
was  also  wretchedly  bad  in  Cornwall,  several  of  the 
more  important  mines  being  unproductive,  while  ore 
was  selling  at  low  prices.  The  adventurers  were 
accordingly  urging  Watt  to  abate  the  agreed  dues  for 
the  use  of  their  engines,  and  in  several  cases  threatened 
to  close  the  mines  unless  he  did  so.  The  United  Mines 
asked  to  be  reduced  50/.  a  month.  Watt  having  refused 
to  make  the  abatement,  the  mine  was  ordered  to  be 
stopped,  on  which  he  consented  to  give  up  the  dues 
altogether  for  a  period  of  six  months.  "  There  seemed," 
he  wrote  to  Boulton,  "to  be  no  other  course,  if  we 

1  Watt  to  Boulton,  16th  March,  1782. 

2  Watt  to  Boulton,  18th  March,  1782. 


would  maintain  our  right,  and  at  the  same  time  do 
justice  to  the  poor  people,  who  must  otherwise  absolutely 
starve,  and  are  already  riotously  disposed  through  the 
stopping  of  Wheal  Yirgin." l  "In  short,"  said  he, 
"  almost  the  whole  county  is  against  us,  and  look  upon 
us  as  oppressors  and  tyrants,  from  whose  power  they 
believe  the  horned  imps  of  Satan  are  to  relieve  them." 
Watt  was  indeed  thoroughly  sick  of  Cornwall,  and 
longed  to  get  back  to  Birmingham.  He  confessed  he 
did  not  see  how,  under  the  present  state  of  things,  he 
could  be  of  any  more  use  there.  The  weather  was  very 
tempestuous,  and  he  felt  the  fatigue  of  travelling  from 
mine  to  mine  too  much  for  him  to  endure.  On  the  4th 
of  April  he  wrote, — "  I  returned  from  the  coast  to  Cos- 
game  last  night  with  an  aching  head,  after  a  peregrina- 
tion of  two  days  in  very  stormy  weather."  "  Upon  the 
whole,"  he  wrote  to  Boulton,  "  I  look  upon  our  present 
Cornish  prospects  as  very  bad,  and  would  not  have  you 
build  too  much  upon  them  nor  upon  the  engine  business, 
without  some  material  change.  I  shall  think  it  prudent 
to  look  out  for  some  other  way  of  livelihood,  as  I  expect 
that  this  will  be  swallowed  up  in  merely  paying  its 
burdens."2  Watt,  accordingly,  finding  that  he  could 
do  no  more  good  in  Cornwall,  left  it  about  the  middle 
of  April,  and  returned  with  an  aching  head  and  heavy 
heart  to  Birmingham. 

1  Watt  to  Boulton,  27th  March,  1782. 

2  Watt  to  Boulton,  30th  March,  1782. 




THE  battle  of  the  firm  had  hitherto  been  all  up-hill. 
Nearly  twenty  years  had  passed  since  Watt  had  made 
his  invention.  His  life  since  then  had  been  a  constant 
struggle,  and  it  was  a  struggle  still.  Thirteen  years 
had  passed  since  the  original  patent  had  been  taken 
out,  and  seven  since  the  Act  had  been  passed  for  its 
extension.  But  the  engine  had  as  yet  yielded  no 
profit,  and  the  outlay  of  capital  continued.  Notwith- 
standing Boulton' s  energy  and  resources,  the  partners 
were  often  in  the  greatest  straits  for  money,  and  some- 
times, as  Saturday  nights  came  round,  they  had  to  beat 
about  among  their  friends  for  the  means  of  paying  the 
workmen's  wages. 

Though  Watt  continued  to  imagine  himself  on  the 
brink  of  ruin,  things  were  not  really  so  gloomy  as 
he  supposed.  We  find  Boulton  stating  in  a  con- 
fidential letter  to  Matthews,  that  the  dues  payable  on 
the  pumping-engines  actually  erected  in  1782  amounted 
to  43 2 01.  a  year;  and  that  when  all  the  engines  in 
progress  had  been  finished,  they  would  probably  amount 
to  about  9000/.  It  is  true,  the  dues  were  paid  with 
difficulty  by  the  mining  interest,  still  in  a  state  of 
great  depression,  but  Boulton  looked  forward  with  con- 
fidence to  better  days  coming  round.  Indeed,  he  already 
saw  his  way  through  the  difficulties  of  the  firm,  and 
encouraged  his  doleful  partner  to  hope  that  in  the  course 
of  a  very  few  years  more,  they  would  be  rid  of  their 


As  Cornwall  was,  however,  now  becoming  well  sup- 
plied with  pumping-engines,  it  became  necessary  to  open 
up  new  branches  of  business  to  keep  the  Soho  manufac- 
tory in  full  work.  With  this  object,  Boulton  became  more 
and  more  desirous  of  applying  the  engine  to  the  various 
purposes  of  rotary  motion.  In  one  of  his  visits  to 
Wales,  in  1781,  he  had  seen  a  powerful  copper-rolling 
mill  driven  by  water,  and  when  told  that  its  defect  was 
that  it  was  liable  to  be  stopped  in  summer  during  drought, 
he  immediately  asked — "  Why  not  use  our  engine  ?  It 
goes  night  and  day,  summer  and  winter,  and  is 
altogether  unaffected  by  drought."  Immediately  on  his 
return  home,  he  made  a  model  of  a  steam  rolling-mill, 
with  two  cylinders  and  two  beams,  connecting  the 
power  by  a  horizontal  axis ;  and  by  the  end  of  the  year 
he  had  a  steam  forge  erected  at  Soho  on  this  plan. 
"It  answers  very  well,"  he  wrote  to  Matthews,  "and 
astonishes  all  the  ironmasters ;  for,  although  it  is  a 
small  engine,  it  draws  even  more  steel  per  day  than 
a  large  rolling-mill  in  this  neighbourhood  draws  by 
water."  Mr.  Wilkinson  was  so  much  pleased  with  it 
that  he  ordered  one  to  be  made  on  a  large  scale  for  the 
Bradley  ironworks;  and  another  was  shortly  after 
ordered  for  Eotherham.  But  the  number  of  iron  mills 
was  exceedingly  limited,  and  Boulton  did  not  anticipate 
any  large  extension  of  business  in  that  quarter.  If,  how- 
ever, he  could  once  get  the  rotary  engine  introduced  as 
the  motive  power  for  corn  and  flour  mills,  he  perceived 
that  the  demand  would  be  considerable.  Writing  to 
Watt  on  the  subject,  he  said,  "When  Wheal  Virgin  is 
at  work,  and  all  the  Cornish  business  is  in  good  train, 
we  must  look  out  for  orders,  as  all  our  treaties  are 
seemingly  at  an  end,  having  none  now  upon  the  tapis. 
There  is  no  other  Cornwall  to  be  found,  and  the  most 
likely  line  for  increasing  the  consumption  of  our  engines 
is  the  application  of  them  to  mills,  which  is  certainly  an 
extensive  field." 


Watt,  on  his  return  to  Birmingham  from  Cornwall, 
proceeded  to  embody  his  plan  for  securing  rotary  motion 
in  a  working  engine,  so  that  he  might  be  enabled  to 
exhibit  the  thing  in  actual  work.  He  was  stimulated  to 
action  by  the  report  which  reached  his  ears  that  a 
person  in  Birmingham  had  set  agoing  a  self-moving 
steam  rotator,  in  imitation  of  his,  on  which  he  exclaimed, 
"  Surely  the  Devil  of  Eotations  is  afoot !  I  hope  he 
will  whirl  them  into  Bedlam  or  Newgate."1  Boulton, 
who  had  by  this  time  gone  to  Cornwall  for  the  winter, 
wrote  to  him  from  Cosgarne,  "It  is  certainly  expensive ; 
but  nevertheless  I  think,  as  we  have  so  much  at  stake,  that 
we  should  proceed  to  execute  such  rotatives  as  you  have 
specified.  .  .  .  You  should  get  a  good  workman  or  two 
to  execute  your  ideas  with  despatch,  lest  they  perish. 
The  value  of  their  wages  for  a  year  might  be  100/.,  but 
it  would  be  the  means  of  our  keeping  the  start  that  we 
now  have  of  all  others.  But  above  all,  there  is  nothing 
of  more  importance  than  the  perfect  completion  of  the 
double  expansive  reciprocating  engine  as  soon  as  may 
be.2  Watt  replied  that  he  was  busily  occupied  in  getting 
the  rotative  motion  applied  to  one  of  the  Soho  engines. 
"  These  rotatives,"  said  he,  "  have  taken  up  all  my  time 
and  attention  for  months,  so  that  I  can  scarcely  say  that 
I  have  done  anything  which  can  be  called  business. 
Our  accounts  lie  miserably  confused.  We  are  going  on 
in  a  very  considerable  weekly  expense  at  Soho,  and  I 
can  see  nothing  likely  to  be  produced  from  it  which  will 
be  an  equivalent."  Speaking  of  the  prospect  of  further 
improvements,  he  added,  "It  is  very  possible  that, 
excepting  what  can  be  done  in  improving  the  mechanics 
of  the  engine,  nothing  much  better  than  we  have 
already  done  will  be  allowed  by  Nature,  who  has  fixed 
a  ne  plus  ultra  in  most  things." : 

1  Walt  to  Boulton,  19th  September,  1782. 
*  Boulton  to  Watt,  28th  September,  1782. 
3  Watt  to  Boulton,  3rd  October,  1782. 




While  thus  hopelessly  proceeding  with  the  rotative 
engine,  Watt  was  disquieted  by  the  intelligence  which 
reached  him  from  Boulton,  as  to  the  untoward  state  of 
affairs  in  Cornwall.  At  some  of  the  most  important 
mines,  in  which  Boulton  and  Watt  held  shares,  the 
yield  had  considerably  fallen  off,  and  the  price  of  the 
ores  being  still  very  low,  they  had  in  a  great  measure 
ceased  to  be  remunerative.  Hence  appeals  were  made 
to  Boulton  on  all  sides  for  an  abatement  of  the  engine 
dues.  Unwilling  to  concede  this,  the  adventurers  pro- 
ceeded to  threaten  him  with  the  Hornblowers,  whose 
engine  they  declared  their  intention  of  adopting.  As, 
however,  Boulton  and  Watt's  engines  were  all  going 
exceedingly  well,  and  as  the  Hornblowers  had  not  yet 
been  able  to  get  one  of  their  boasted  engines  to  work 
satisfactorily,1  the  adventurers  hesitated  for  the  present 
to  take  any  overt  steps  in  the  matter. 

Boulton  had  a  long  and  disagreeable  battle  to  fight 
with  the  adventurers  on  this  point,  which  lasted  for 
many  months,  during  which  the  Hornblowers  continued 
to  stimulate  them  with  the  agreeable  prospect  of 
getting  rid  of  the  dues  payable  in  respect  of  the  savings 
of  fuel  by  the  condensing  engines.  Boulton  resisted 
them  at  every  point  single-handed ;  the  battle  being,  as 
he  said,  "  Boulton  and  Watt  against  all  Cornwall."  2  He 
kept  Watt  fully  informed  from  day  to  day  of  all  that 
passed,  and  longed  for  more  rapid  means  of  communi- 

1  "  On  my  road  to  this  place 
(Cosgarne)  I  stayed  two  days  at 
Bristol  in  order  to  learn  the-particulars 
of  Hornblower's  new  engine  erected  in 
that  neighbourhood,  and  I  had  the 
satisfaction  to  find  that  it  is  worse 
than  a  common  engine,  although  made 
upon  our  principles;  but  from  the 
various  evasions  introduced  it  is  as 
bad  as  need  be.  Nevertheless  I 
think  we  should  stop  it  in  order  to 
stop  the  effects  of  the  numerous  lies 
they  propagate  in  this  county,  and 
other  mischiefs." — Boulton  to  Watt, 

30th  September,  1782. 

2  "  I  don't  know  a  man  in  Cornwall 
amongst  the  adventurers,"  he  wrote, 
"  but  what  would  think  it  patriotism 
to  free  the  mines  from  the  tribute 
they  pay  to  us,  and  thereby  divide 
our  rights  amongst  their  own  dear 
selves.  Nevertheless,  let  us  keep  our 
tempers,  and  keep  the  firm  hold  we 
have  got ;  let  us  do  justice,  show 
mercy  and  walk  humbly,  and  all,  I 
hope,  will  be  right  at  last."— 
Boulton  to  Watt,  2nd  November, 


cation, — the  postal  service  being  then  so  defective  that  no 
less  than  thirteen  days  elapsed  before  Boulton,  at  Truro, 
could  receive  an  answer  from  Watt  at  Birmingham. 
On  one  occasion  we  find  Watt's  letter  eleven  days  on 
the  road  between  the  two  places.  The  partners  even 
had  fears  that  their  letters  were  tampered  with  in 
transit;  and,  in  order  to  carry  on  their  correspondence 
confidentially,  Watt  proposed  to  employ  a  shorthand 
alphabet,  which  he  had  learnt  from  Dr.  Priestley,  in 
which  to  write  at  least  the  names  of  persons,  "  as  our 
correspondence,"  he  observed,  "ought  to  be  managed 
with  all  possible  secrecy,  especially  as  to  names." 

Boulton,  as  usual,  led  a  very  active  life  in  Corn- 
wall. Much  of  his  time  was  occupied  in  riding  from 
mine  to  mine,  inspecting  the  engines  at  work,  and 
superintending  the  erection  of  others.  The  season 
being  far  advanced,  the  weather  was  bad,  and  the 
roads  miry;  but,  wet  or  dry,  he  went  his  rounds.  In 
one  of  his  letters  he  gives  an  account  of  a  miserable 
journey  home  on  horseback,  on  a  certain  rainy,  windy, 
dark  night  in  November,  when  he  was  "  caught  in  water 
up  to  1 2  hands."  "  It  is  very  disagreeable,"  he  adds,  "  that 
one  cannot  stay  out  till  dark  upon  the  most  emergent 
business  without  risking  one's  life."  But  once  at  home 
he  was  happy.  "  The  greatest  comfort  I  find  here,"  he 
says,  "is  in  being  shut  out  from  the  world,  and  the 
world  from  me.  At  the  same  time  I  have  quite  as 
much  visiting  as  I  wish  for."  One  of  his  favourite 
amusements  was  collecting  and  arranging  fossils,  some 
for  his  friend  Wedgwood,  and  others  for  his  own  "  fos- 
silry"  at  Soho.  Boulton  was  well  supported  out  of 
doors  by  William  Murdock,  now  regarded  as  "  the  right 
hand  "  of  the  concern  in  Cornwall. 

"  Murdock  hath  been  indefatigable,"  he  wrote  Watt,  "  ever  since 
they  began  [at  AY  heal  Virgin  new  Engine].  He  has  scarcely  been 
in  bed  or  taken  necessary  food.  .  .  .  After  slaving  day  and  night  on 
Thursday  and  Friday,  a  letter  came  from  \Vheal  Virgin  that  he 



must  go  instantly  to  set  their  engine  to  work  or  they  would  let  out 
the  fire.  He  went  and  set  the  engine  to  work  :  it  worked  well  for 
the  five  or  six  hours  he  remained.  He  left  it  and  returned  to  the 
Consolidated  Mines  about  eleven  at  night,  and  was  employed  about 
the  engines  till  four  this  morning,  and  then  went  to  bed.  I  found 
him  at  ten  this  morning  in  Poldice  Cistern,  seeking  for  pins  and 
casters  that  had  jumped  out,  when  I  insisted  on  his  going  home  to 
bed." l 

On  one  occasion,  when  an  engine  superintended  by 
Murdock  stopped  through  some  accident  occurring  to 
it,  the  water  rose  in  the  mine,  and  the  miners  were 
drowned  out.  Upon  this  occurring,  they  came  "  roaring 
at  him"  for  having  thrown  them  out  of  work,  and 
threatened  to  tear  him  to  pieces.  Nothing  daunted,  he 
went  through  the  midst  of  the  men,  and  proceeded  to 
the  invalided  engine,  which  he  succeeded  in  very  shortly 
repairing  and  setting  to  work  again.  The  miners  were 
so  rejoiced  that  they  were  carried  by  their  feelings 
into  the  opposite  extreme;  and  when  he  came  out  of 
the  engine-house  they  cheered  him  vociferously,  and 
insisted  upon  carrying  him  home  on  their  shoulders 
in  triumph! 

About  this  time,  Boulton  became  increasingly  anxious 
to  ascertain  what  the  Hornblowers  were  doing.  They 
continued  to  brag  of  the  extraordinary  powers  of  the 
engine  erected  by  them  at  Eadstoke,  near  Bristol, 
whither  he  proposed  to  go,  to  ascertain  its  construc- 
tion and  qualities,  as  well  as  to  warn  the  persons  who 
were  employing  them  as  to  the  consequences  of  their 
infringing  the  existing  patent.  But  he  was  tied  to 
Cornwall  by  urgent  business,  and  could  not  leave  his 
post  for  a  day.  "  During  the  forking  of  these  two  great 
mines,"  said  he,  "  I  dare  not  stir  two  miles  from  the 
spot,  and  it  will  yet  be  six  weeks  before  I  regain  my 
liberty."2  He  determined,  therefore,  to  send  over 
James  Law,  a  Soho  man  on  whom  he  could  rely,  to 

1  Boulton  to  Watt,  30th  September,  1782. 

2  Eoulton  to  Watson  of  Bristol,  7th  November,  1782. 


ascertain,  if  possible,  the  character  of  the  new  engine, 
and  he  also  asked  his  partner  Watt  to  wait  upon  the 
proprietors  of  Radstoke  so  soon  as  he  could  make  it 
convenient  to  do  so.  Law  accordingly  proceeded  to 
Radstoke,  and  soon  found  out  where  the  engine  was ; 
but  as  the  Homers  were  all  in  the  neighbourhood, 
keeping  watch  and  ward  over  it  turn  and  turn  about, 
he  was  unable  to  see  it  except  through  the  engine-house 
window,  when  it  was  not  working.  He  learnt,  how- 
ever, that  there  was  something  seriously  wrong  with 
it,  and  that  the  engineers  were  considerably  crestfallen 
about  its  performances. 

Watt  proceeded  to  Bristol,  as  recommended  by  his 
partner,  for  the  purpose  of  having  a  personal  inter- 
view with  Hornblower's  employers.  On  his  arrival,  he 
found  that  Major  Tucker,  the  principal  partner,  was 
absent ;  and  though  he  succeeded  in  seeing  Mr.  Hill, 
another  of  the  partners,  he  could  get  no  satisfactory 
reply  from  him  as  to  the  intentions  of  the  firm  with 
respect  to  the  new  engine.  Having  travelled  a  hundred 
miles  on  his  special  errand,  Watt  determined  not  to 
return  to  Birmingham  until  he  had  seen  the  principal 
partner.  On  inquiry  he  found  that  Major  Tucker  had 
gone  to  Bath,  and  thither  Watt  followed  him.  At  Bath 
he  found  that  the  Major  had  gone  to  Melcompton.  Watt 
took  a  chaise  and  followed  him.  The  Major  was  out 
hunting ;  and  Watt  waited  impatiently  at  a  little  ale- 
house in  the  village  till  three  o'clock,  when  the  Major 
returned — "  a  potato-faced,  chuckle-headed  fellow,  with 
a  scar  on  the  pupil  of  one  eye.  In  short,"  said  Watt, 
"  I  did  not  like  his  physiog."  After  shortly  informing 
the  Major  of  the  object  of  his  visit,  who  promised  to 
bring  the  subject  under  the  notice  of  his  partners  at  a 
meeting  to  be  held  in  about  three  weeks'  time,  Watt, 
finding  that  he  could  do  no  more,  took  his  leave ;  but, 
before  he  left  Bristol,  he  inserted  in  the  local  papers  an 
advertisement,  prepared  by  Boulton,  cautioning  the 

Y  2 


public  against  using  the  Hornblowers'  engine,  as  being 
a  direct  infringement  of  their  patent.  For  the  present, 
indeed,  there  seemed  but  little  reason  to  apprehend 
danger  from  the  Hornblowers,  whose  engine  was  still 
undergoing  alterations  in  detail,  if  not  in  principle ;  and 
it  appeared  doubtful,  from  the  trials  which  had  been 
made  of  it,  whether  it  would  ever  prove  an  economical 
working  engine. 

Watt  then  returned  to  Birmingham,  to  proceed  with 
the  completion  of  his  rotary  motion.  Boulton  kept 
urging  that  the  field  for  pumping-engines  was  limited, 
that  their  Cornish  prospects  were  still  gloomy,  and  that 
they  must  very  soon  look  out  for  new  fields.  One  of 
his  schemes  was  the  applying  of  the  steam-engine  to 
the  winding  of  coals.  "A  hundred  engines  at  100/. 
a  year  each,"  he  said,  "  would  be  a  better  thing  than  all 
Cornwall."  But  the  best  field  of  all,  he  still  held,  was 
mills.  "Let  us  remember,"  said  he,  "the  Birmingham 
motto,  to  '  strike  while  the  iron  is  hot.5 ' 

"Watt,  as  usual,  was  not  so  sanguine  as  his  partner, 
and  rather  doubtful  of  the  profit  to  be  derived  from 
this  source.  From  a  correspondence  between  him  and 
Mr.  William  Wyatt,  of  London,  on  the  subject,  we 
find  him  discouraging  the  scheme  of  applying  steam- 
engines  to  drive  corn-mills ;  on  which  Boulton  wrote 
to  Wyatt,— 

"  You  have  had  a  correspondence  with  my  friend  Watt,  but  I 
know  not  the  particulars.  .  .  .  You  must  make  allowance  in  what 
Mr.  Watt  says  ...  he  under  values  the  merits  of  his  own  works. 
.  .  .  1  will  take  all  risks  in  erecting  an  engine  for  a  corn-mill.  .  .  . 
I  think  I  can  safely  say  our  engine  will  grind  four  times  the  quantity 
of  corn  per  bushel  of  coal  compared  with  any  engine  hitherto 
erected."  * 

About  the  same  time  we  find  Boulton  writing  to 

"  You  seem  to  be  fearful  that  mills  will  not  answer,  and  that  you 

1  Boulton  to  Wyatt,  16th  December,  1782. 


cannot  make  Reynolds's  amount  to  more  than  201.  a  year.  For  my 
part,  I  think  that  mills,  though  trifles  in  comparison  with  Cornish 
engines,  present  a  field  that  is  boundless,  and  that  will  be  more 
permanent  than  these  transient  mines,  and  more  satisfactory  than 
these  inveterate,  ungenerous,  and  envious  miners  and  mine  lords. 
As  to  the  trouble  of  small  engines,  I  would  curtail  it  by  making  a 
pattern  card  of  them  (which  may  be  done  in  the  course  of  next  year), 
and  confine  ourselves  to  those  sorts  and  sizes  until  our  convenience 
admits  of  more."  * 

In  the  mean  time  "Watt,  notwithstanding  his  doubts, 
had  been  proceeding"  with  the  completion  of  his  rotative 
machine,  and  by  the  end  of  the  year  applied  it  with 
success  to  a  tilt-hammer,  as  well  as  to  a  corn-mill  at 
Soho.  Some  difficulties  presented  themselves  at  first, 
but  they  were  speedily  surmounted.  The  number  of 
strokes  made  by  the  hammer  was  increased  from  18  per 
minute  in  the  first  experiment,  to  25  in  the  second ; 
and  -Watt  contemplated  increasing  the  speed  to  even 
250  or  300  strokes  a  minute,  by  diminishing  the  height 
to  which  the  hammer  rose  before  making  its  descending 
blow.  "  There  is  now  no  doubt,"  said  he,  "  that  fire- 
engines  will  drive  mills;  but  I  entertain  some  doubts 
whether  anything  is  to  be  got  by  them,  as  by  any  com- 
putation I  have  yet  made  of  the  mill  for  Reynolds 
[recently  ordered]  I  cannot  make  it  come  to  more  than 
20£.  per  annum,  which  will  do  little  more  than  pay 
trouble.  Perhaps  some  others  may  do  better."2 

The  problem  of  producing  rotary  motion  by  steam- 
power  was  thus  solved  to  the  satisfaction  even  of  Watt 
himself.  But  though  a  boundless  field  for  the  employ- 
ment of  the  engine  now  presented  itself,  Watt  was 
anything  but  elated  at  the  prospect.  For  some  time 
he  doubted  whether  it  would  be  worth  the  while  of  the 
Soho  firm  to  accept  orders  for  engines  of  this  sort. 
When  Boulton  went  to  Dublin  to  endeavour  to  secure 
a  patent  for  Ireland,  Watt  wrote  to  him  thus  : — "  Some 

1  Boulton  to  Watt,  7th  December, 


2  Watt  to  Boulton,  28th  November, 





'OLD   BESS." 

people  at  Burton  are  making1  application  to  us  for  an 
engine  to  work  a  cotton-mill ;  but  from  their  letter  and 
the  man  they  have  sent  here,  I  have  no  great  opinion 

1  The  above  illustration  represents 
the  first  engine  employed  at  Soho, 
with  the  alterations  subsequently  in- 
troduced, for  the  purpose  of  producing 
rotary  motion.  The  old  Kinneil 
engine,  "Beelzebub,"  as  Watt  called 
her,  was  entirely  removed,  and  re- 
placed by  this  engine,  as  explained  by 
Watt  in  his  MS.  Memoir  of  Boulton 
now  before  us,  wherein  he  states, — 
"  The  first  engine  of  18  inches  cylin- 
der, which  was  employed  in  returning 
the  water  to  Soho  mill,  was  replaced 
about  1778  or  1779  by  a  larger  engine, 
the  first  on  the  expansive  principle, 
which  still  remains  there."  The 

engine  became  known  at  Soho  as 
"  Old  Bess,"  and  she  continued  in 
regular  work  until  within  the  last 
eight  years.  The  illustration  shows 
the  state  in  which  the  engine  now 
stands  in  South  Kensington  Museum. 
A.  steam  cylinder ;  B.  steam  pipe  ;  C. 
throttle  valve;  D.  steam  valve;  E.  educ- 
tion valve ;  F.  eduction  pipe ;  G.  valve 
gearing;  H.  condenser;  I.  air  pump;  K. 
air  pump  rod;  L.  foot  valve;  M.  hand 
gear  tappet  rod ;  N.  parallel  motion ; 
0.  balance  weight ;  P.  rocking  beam  ; 
Q.  connecting  rod ;  R.  feed  pump  rod ; 
S.  sun  wheel;  T.  planet  wheel;  U.  fly 
wheel ;  W.  governor  ;  X.  feed  water 




of  their  abilities If  you  come  home  by  way  of 

Manchester,  please  not  to  seek  for  orders  for  cotton-mill 
engines,  because  I  hear  that  there  are  so  many  mills 
erecting  011  powerful  streams  in  the  north  of  England, 
that  the  trade  must  soon  be  overdone,  and  consequently 
our  labour  may  be  lost."  Boulton,  however,  had  no 
such  misgivings.  He  foresaw  that  before  long  the 
superior  power,  regularity,  speed,  and  economy,  of 
the  steam-engine,  must  recommend  it  for  adoption  in 
all  branches  of  manufacture  in  which  rotative  motion 
was  employed ;  and  he  had  no  hesitation  in  applying 
for  orders  notwithstanding  the  opposition  of  his  partner. 
The  first  rotary  engine  was  made  for  Mr.  Eeynolds,  of 
Ketley,  towards  the  end  of  1782,  and  was  used  to  drive 
a  corn-mill.  It  was  some  time  before  another  order  was 
received,  though  various  inquiries  were  made  about 
engines  for  the  purpose  of  polishing  glass,  grinding 
malt,  rolling  iron,  and  such  like.1  The  first  engine  of 
the  kind  erected  in  London  was  at  Groodwyn  and  Co.'s 
brewery;  and  the  second,  still  working,  though  in  an 
altered  form,  at  the  Messrs.  Whitbread's.  These  were 
shortly  followed  by  other  engines  of  the  same  descrip- 
tion, until  there  was  scarcely  a  brewery  in  London 
that  was  not  supplied  with  one. 

In  the  mean  time,  the  works  at  Soho  continued  to  be 
fully  employed  in  the  manufacture  of  pumping-engines. 
But  as  the  county  of  Cornwall  was  becoming  well 
supplied, — no  fewer  than  twenty-one  having  now  been 
erected  there,  only  one  of  the  old  Newcomen  construc- 
tion continuing  in  work, — it  was  probable  that  before 

1  "  We  have  had  a  visit  to-day 
from  a  Mr.  Cort  of  Gosport,  who  says 
he  has  a  forge  there,  and  has  found 
out  some  grand  secret  in  the  making 
of  iron,  by  which  he  can  make  double 
the  quantity  at  the  same  expense  and 
in  the  same  time  as  usual.  He  says 
he  wants  some  kind  of  engine,  but 
could  not  tell  what ;  wants  some  of  us 

to  call  on  him,  and  says  he  had  some 
correspondence  with  you  on  the  sub- 
ject. He  seems  a  simple  goodnatured 
man,  but  not  very  knowing.  He 
says  he  has  most  of  the  smith-work 
for  the  king's  yard,  and  has  a  forge, 
a  rolling  and  slitting  mill.  I  think 
him  a  brother  projector." — Watt  to 
Boulton,  14th  December,  1782. 


long  the  demand  from  that  quarter  must  slacken,  if 
not  come  to  an  end.  There  were,  however,  other 
uses  to  which  the  pumping-engine  might  be  applied ; 
and  one  of  the  most  promising  was  the  drainage  of 
the  Fen  lands.  Some  adventurers  at  Soham,  near 
Cambridge,  having  made  inquiries  on  the  subject,  Watt 
wrote  to  his  partner,  "I  look  upon  these  Fens  as 
the  only  trump  card  we  have  left  in  our  hand." *  The 
adventurers  proposed  that  Boulton  and  Watt  should 
take  an  interest  in  their  scheme  by  subscribing  part  of 
the  necessary  capital.  But  Watt  decidedly  objected 
to  this,  as  he  did  not  wish  to  repeat  his  Cornish  diffi- 
culties in  the  Fens.  He  was  willing  to  supply  engines 
on  reasonable  terms,  but  as  for  shares  he  would  have 
none  of  them.  The  conclusion  he  eventually  arrived  at 
with  respect  to  his  proposed  customers  was  this, — "  Con- 
sider Fen  men  as  Cornish  men,  only  more  cunning." 

In  the  midst  of  his  great  labours,  Boulton  was  re- 
minded that  he  was  human.  He  had  for  years  been 
working  at  too  high  pressure,  and  the  tear  and  wear 
began  to  tell  upon  his  health.  Watt  expostulated  with 
him,  telling  him  that  he  was  trying  to  do  half-a-dozen 
men's  work;  but  in  vain.  He  was  committed  to  so 
many  important  enterprises — he  had  so  much  at  stake 
—the  liabilities  he  had  to  meet  from  day  to  day  were  so 
heavy — that  he  was  in  a  measure  forced  to  be  active. 
To  his  friend  Matthews  he  lamented  that  he  was  under 
the  necessity  of  "  slaving  from  morning  till  night, 
working  fourteen  hours  a  day,  in  the  drudgery  of  a  Bir- 
mingham manufacturer  and  hardware  merchant."  But 
this  could  not  last,  and  before  long  he  was  threatened 
with  a  break-down.  His  friends  Drs.  Withering  and 
Darwin  urged  him  at  once  to  "  knock  off"  and  take  a 
long  holiday — to  leave  Soho  and  its  business,  its  cor- 
respondence, and  its  visitors,  and  get  as  far  away  from  it 
as  possible. 

1  4th  December,  1782. 


Acting  on  their  advice,  he  resolved  on  making  a  long- 
promised  visit  to  Scotland,  and  he  set  out  on  his  tour 
in  the  autumn  of  1783.  He  went  by  Newcastle,  where 
he  visited  the  principal  coal  mines,  and  from  thence  to 
Edinburgh,  where  he  had  some  pleasant  intercourse 
with  Dr.  Black  and  Professor  Robison.  It  is  evident 
from  his  letters  that  he  did  not  take  much  ease  during 
his  journey,  for  he  carried  about  with  him  his  steam- 
engine — at  least  in  his  head.  "  I  talked  with  Dr.  Black 
and  another  chemical  friend,"  he  wrote,  "  respecting  my 
plan  for  saving  alkali  at  such  bleach-grounds  as  our  fire- 
engines  are  used  at  instead  of  water-wheels  :  the  Doctor 
did  not  start  any  objections,  but,  on  the  contrary,  much 
approved  it."  From  Edinburgh  he  proceeded  to  the 
celebrated  ironworks  at  Carron,  a  place  in  which  he 
naturally  felt  a  peculiar  interest.  There  his  friend 
Roebuck  had  started  his  great  enterprise,  and  there 
Watt  had  erected  his  first  engine.  His  visit  there, 
however,  was  not  so  much  for  curiosity  or  pleasure,  but 
for  business  and  experiment.  "  During  my  residence  in 
Scotland,"  said  he,  "  one  month  of  my  time  was  closely 
employed  at  Carron  Ironworks  in  settling  accounts,  but 
principally  in  making  a  great  number  of  experiments 
on  all  their  iron  ores,  and  in  putting  them  into  the  train 
of  making  good  bar-iron,  in  which  I  succeeded  to  my 
wishes,  although  they  had  never  made  a  single  bar  of 
tough  iron  at  Carron  before."  l  In  the  course  of  his 
journey  he  made  a  large  collection  of  fossils  for  his 
museum,  and  the  weight  of  his  bags  sensibly  increased 
almost  daily.  On  his  way  through  Ayrshire  he  called 
on  Lord  Dundonald,  a  kindred  spirit  in  chemical  and 
mechanical  scheming,  and  examined  his  mineral  tar 
works.  He  wrote  to  Mr.  Gilbert,  the  Duke  of  Bridge- 
water's  manager  at  Worsley,  that  "  the  tar  is  better  for 
the  bottoms  of  vessels  than  the  vegetable  tar ;  and  the 

Letter  to  Thomas  Knox,  M.P. 




coal-oil  hath  many  uses.     Query — if  such  a  work  might 
not  be  a  useful  appendage  to  your  colliery  and  canal." 

Boulton  returned  to  Soho  greatly  improved  in  health, 
and  was  shortly  immersed  as  before  in  the  business  of 
the  factory.  He  found  considerable  arrears  of  corre- 
spondence requiring  to  be  brought  up.  Several  of  the 
letters  waiting  for  him  were  from  schemers  of  new 
inventions  connected  with  the  steam-engine.  Whenever 
an  inventor  thought  he  had  discovered  anything  new, 
he  at  once  rushed  to  Boulton  with  it.  He  was  looked 
upon  as  the  lord  and  leader  of  steam  power.  His  repu- 
tation for  enterprise  and  business  aptitude,  and  the 
energetic  manner  in  which  he  had  pushed  Watt's  inven- 
tion, were  now  so  widely  known,  that  every  new 
schemer  saw  a  fortune  within  his  reach  could  he  but 
enlist  Boulton  on  his  side.  Hence  much  of  his  time 
was  occupied  in  replying  to  letters  from  schemers,— 
from  inventors  of  perpetual  motion,  of  flying-machines, 
of  locomotion  by  steam,  and  of  various  kinds  of  rotary 
motion.  In  one  of  his  letters  we  find  him  complaining 
of  so  much  of  his  time  being  "  taken  up  in  answering 
great  numbers  of  letters  he  had  lately  been  plagued 
with  from  eccentric  persons  of  no  business ; "  for  it  was 
his  practice  never  to  leave  a  letter  unanswered,  no 
matter  how  insignificant  or  unreasonable  his  corre- 
spondent might  be.1 

1  With  an  almost  excess  of  polite- 
ness, Boulton  wrote  long  letters  to 
unknown  correspondents  to  set  them 
right  about  mechanical  errors  into 
which  they  seemed  to  him  to  have 
fallen.  Thus  a  Mr.  Knipe  of  Chel- 
sea, supposing  he  had  discovered 
a  perpetual  motion  machine,  wrote 
inviting  Boulton  to  join  him  as  a 
partner.  Though  the  man  was  without 
means  and  evidently  foolish,  Boulton 
wrote  him  several  long  letters  in  the 
kindest  spirit,  pointing  out  that  his 
scheme  was  contrary  to  reason  and  sci- 
ence. "It  is  impossible,"  said  he,  "  for 

inanimate  mechanism  to  produce  the 
least  degree  of  power  or  to  augment 
the  sum  total  of  the  primum  mobile. 
Mechanism  may  communicate  or  con- 
centrate or  economise  power,  but  cannot 
create  or  augment  it."  Knipe  replied 
at  great  length,  vindicating  his  inven- 
tion. His  enthusiasm  pleased  Boulton, 
who,  in  the  generosity  of  his  nature, 
sent  him  a  draft  for  ten  guineas  on  his 
London  bankers  to  enable  the  poor 
inventor  to  secure  his  invention  if 
there  was  really  anything  in  it.  But 
nothing  more  was  heard  of  Knipe's 
Perpetual  Motion  Machine. 




After  a  short  visit  to  London,  Boulton  proceeded  into 
Cornwall  to  look  after  the  engines  there,  and  watch  the 
progress  of  the  mining  operations  in  which  by  this  time 
he  had  become  so  largely  interested.  He  found  the 
adventurers  in  a  state  of  general  grumble  at  the  badness 
of  the  times,  the  lowness  of  prices,  the  losses  incurred 
in  sinking  for  ore  that  could  not  be  found,  and  the 
heaviness  of  the  dues  for  engine-power  payable  to 
Boulton  and  Watt.  At  such  times,  the  partners  were 
usually  beset  with  applications  for  abatement,  to  which 
they  were  under  the  necessity  of  submitting  to  prevent 
the  mines  being  altogether  closed.  Thus  the  dues  at 
Chacewater  were  reduced  from  2500/.  to  1000/.  a  year, 
and  the  adventurers  were  still  pressing  for  further 
reductions.1  What  provoked  Boulton  most,  however, 
was,  not  the  loss  of  dues  so  much  as  the  threats  which 
were  constantly  held  out  to  him  that  unless  the  demands 
of  the  adventurers  were  complied  with,  they  would 
employ  the  Hornblowers. 

"  It  is  a  disagreeable  thing,"  he  wrote,  "  to  live  amongst  one's 
enemies,  and  all  the  adventurers  are  so,  except  Phillips  and  the  Foxes, 
who  are  fair  men  although  they  would  rather  have  engines  free.  I 
have  had  many  hints  given  me  that  the  Trumpeters  were  reviving 
their  mischief,  and  many  causes  for  uneasiness,  but  I  did  not  wish 
you  to  partake  of  them,  and  therefore  have  been  silent ;  but  they 
are  now  striking  at  the  root  of  us,  and  therefore  we  must  defend 

1  No  wonder  the  miners  were  so 
urgent  for  reductions  in  working  ex- 
penses, as  we  find  from  a  communica- 
tion from  Watt  to  Boulton,  of  facts  to 
be  laid  before  Parliament  against  the 
proposed  tax  on  coal,  that  Ohacewater 
had  sunk  50,000?.  in  setting  the  mine 
to  work ;  Wheal  Virgin  28,000?.  in 
ten  months,  and  still  unprosperous ; 
Poldice  a  very  large  sum,  and  merely 
paying  expenses ;  Wheal  Chance 
35,000?.,  and  only  moderately  pros- 
perous; Pool  14,000?.,  without  much 
prospect  of  recovery ;  Roskere  lan- 
guishing, and  not  paying  expenses; 
United  Mines,  which  had  been  at 

death's  door,  still  in  a  tottering 
state;  Wheal  Union  stopped,  after 
losing  about  8000?.;  Dalcoath  500?. 
spent  on  timber  per  month,  and  a  new 
kibble-rope,  of  above  a  ton  weight, 
worn  out  in  a  fortnight.  [To  draw  a 
kibble  of  ore  then,  weighing  about 
3  cwt.,  took  fully  fifteen  minutes, 
owing  to  the  great  depth  of  that  mine, 
and  two-thirds  of  the  stuff  drawn  was 
stones.]  To  which  Watt  added,  "  if  we 
had  not  furnished  the  miners  with 
more  effectual  means  of  draining  the 
water,  almost  all  the  deep  mines 
would  have  been  abandoned  before 


ourselves  or  fall.  ...  I  think  if  we  could  but  keep  up  our  spirits 
and  be  active  we  might  vanquish  all  the  host.  But  I  must  own 
that  I  have  been  low-spirited  ever  since  I  have  been  here — have 
been  indolent,  and  feel  as  if  the  springs  of  life  were  let  down." 

It  does  not,  however,  appear  from  the  letter  to  Watt 
in  which  this  complaint  occurs,  that  Boulton  had  been 
at  all  indolent,  as  he  speaks  of  being  in  almost  daily 
attendance  at  the  miners'  meetings ;  one  day  at  Poldice, 
the  next  at  Consolidated  Mines,  and  so  on.  Of  the 
latter  meeting  he  says, — - 

"  There  was  a  full  attendance ;  Jethro  looked  impudent,  but 
mortified  to  see  the  new  little  engine  drawing  kibbles  from  two  pits 
exceedingly  well  and  very  manageable,  and  afterwards  it  worked 
six  stamps  each  2%  =  14  cwt.,  lifted  twice  at  each  revolution,  or 
four  times  for  every  stroke  of  the  engine.  I  suppose  there  were  a 
thousand  people  present  to  see  the  engine  work." 

Watt  was,  on  his  part,  rather  opposed  to  making 
further  concessions,  which  only  seemed  to  have  the  effect 
of  inviting  demands  for  more. 

"  People,"  said  he,  "  do  not  employ  us  out  of  personal  regard,  but 
to  serve  themselves ;  and  why  should  not  we  look  after  ourselves 
in  like  manner.  .  .  .  John  Taylor  died  the  other  day  worth  200,000?., 
without  ever  doing  one  generous  action.  I  do  not  mean  that  we 
should  follow  his  example.  I  should  not  consent  to  oppression  or  to 
take  any  unfair  advantage  of  my  neighbour's  necessity,  but  I  think 
it  blameable  to  exercise  generosity  towards  men  who  display  none 
towards  us.  It  is  playing  an  unfair  game  when  the  advantage  is 
wholly  on  their  side.  If  Wheal  Virgin  threatened  to  stop  unless 
we  abated  one-half,  they  should  stop  for  me ;  but  if  it  appeared  that, 
according  to  the  mode  settled  in  making  the  agreement,  we  had 
too  high  a  premium,  I  should  voluntarily  reduce  it  to  whatever  was 

While  Boulton  was  fighting  for  dues  in  Cornwall, 
and  labouring  as  before  to  improve  the  business 
management  of  the  mines  in  which  he  was  interested 
as  a  shareholder,  Watt  was  busily  occupied  at  Soho  in 
turning  out  new  engines  for  various  purposes,  as  well 
as  in  perfecting  several  long-contemplated  inventions. 
The  manufactory,  which  had  for  a  time  been  unusually 




slack,  was  again  in  full  work.  Several  engines 
were  in  hand  for  the  London  brewers.  Wedgwood  had 
ordered  an  engine  to  grind  flints ; *  and  orders  were 
coming  in  for  rotative  engines  for  various  purposes, 
such  as  driving  saw-mills  in  America  and  sugar-mills  in 
the  West  Indies.  Work  was,  indeed,  so  plentiful  that 
Watt  was  opposed  to  further  orders  for  rotatives  being 
taken,  as  the  drawings  for  them  occupied  so  much  time, 
and  they  brought  in  but  small  profit.  "  I  see  plainly," 
said  he,  "  that  every  rotation  engine  will  cost  twice  the 
trouble  of  one  for  raising  water,  and  will  in  general  pay 
only  half  the  money.  Therefore  I  beg  you  will  not 
undertake  any  more  rotatives  until  our  hands  are  clear, 
which  will  not  be  before  1785.  We  have  already  more 
work  in  hand  than  we  have  people  to  execute  it  in  the 
interval." 2 

One  reason  why  Watt  was  more  than  usually  econo- 
mical of  his  time  was,  that  he  was  then  in  the  throes  of 
the  inventions  patented  by  him  in  the  course  of  this 
year.  Though  racked  by  headaches  which,  he  com- 
plained, completely  "  dumfounded "  him  and  perplexed 
his  mind,  he  could  not  restrain  his  irrepressible  instinct 
to  invent ;  and  the  result  was  the  series  of  inventions 
embodied  in  his  patent  of  1784,  including,  among  other 
things,  the  application  of  the  steam-engine  to  the 
working  of  a  tilt-hammer  for  forging  iron  and  steel,  to 
driving  wheel-carriages  for  carrying  persons  and  goods, 
and  for  other  purposes.  The  specification  also  included 
the  beautiful  invention  of  the  parallel  motion,  of  which 
Watt  himself  said,  "  Though  I  am  not  over  anxious  after 
fame,  yet  I  am  more  proud  of  the  parallel  motion  than  of 
any  other  mechanical  invention  I  have  ever  made."  Watt 
was  led  to  meditate  this  contrivance  by  the  practical 

1  The  engine  was  of  40-horse  power. 
It  was  erected  at  the  "  Black  Works," 
Etruria,  where  it  continues  working 
with  the  sun  and  planet  motion, — one 
of  the  very  few  engines  of  the  old 

construction    still    remaining   in  ex- 

2  Watt    to    Poulton,    22nd   June, 


inconvenience  which  he  experienced  in  communicating 
the  direct  vertical  motion  of  the  piston-rod  by  means  of 
^  racks  and  sectors,  to  the 

U  angular    motion    of    the 

§1  Rfelfea*    working  beam.     He  was 

gradually  led  to  entertain 
the  opinion  that  some 
means  might  be  contrived 
for  accomplishing  this  ob- 
ject by  motions  turning 
upon  centres  ;  and,  work- 
ing upon  this  idea,  he 
J  gradually  elaborated  his 

THE  P^KAIXEL  MOTION  invention.     So  soon  as  he 

caught  sight  of  the  possible  means  of  overcoming  the 
difficulty,  he  wrote  to  Boulton  in  Cornwall,— 

"  I  have  started  a  new  hare.  I  have  got  a  glimpse  of  a  method  of 
causing  a  piston-rod  to  move  up  and  down  perpendicularly  by  only 
fixing  it  to  a  piece  of  iron  upon  the  beam,  without  chains  or 
perpendicular  guides  or  untowardly  friction,  arch  heads,  or  other 
pieces  of  clumsiness;  by  which  contrivance  it  answers  fully  to 
expectation.  About  5  feet  in  the  height  of  her  house  may  be  saved 
in  8 -feet  strokes,  which  I  look  upon  as  a  capital  saving,  and  it  will 
answer  for  double  engines  as  well  as  for  single  ones.  I  have  only 
tried  it  in  a  slight  model  yet,  so  cannot  build  upon  it,  though  I 
think  it  a  very  probable  thing  to  succeed.  It  is  one  of  the  most 
ingenious,  simple  pieces  of  mechanism  I  have  ever  contrived,  but  I 
beg  nothing  may  be  said  on  it  till  I  specify." l 

He  immediately  set  to  work  to  put  his  idea  to  the 
practical  proof,  and  only  eleven  days  later  he  wrote,— 

"  I  have  made  a  very  large  model  of  the  new  substitute  for  racks 
and  sectors,  which  seems  to  bid  fair  to  answer.  The  rod  goes  up 
and  down  quite  in  a  perpendicular  line  without  racks,  chains, 
or  guides.  It  is  a  perpendicular  motion  derived  from  a  combination 
of  motions  about  centres — very  simple,  has  very  little  friction,  has 
nothing  standing  higher  than  the  back  of  the  beam,  and  requires 
the  centre  of  the  beam  to  be  only  half  the  stroke  of  the  engine 
higher  than  the  top  of  the  piston-rod  when  at  lowest,  and  has 

1  Watt  to  Boulton,  30th  June,  1784.     Boulton  MSS. 




no  inclination  to  pull  the  piston-rod  either  one  way  or  another,  only 
straight  up  and  down.  .  .  .  However,  don't  pride  yourself  on  it — it 
is  not  fairly  tried  yet,  and  may  have  unknown  faults." * 

Another  of  Watt's  beautiful  inventions  of  the  same 
period,  was  the  Governor,  contrived  for  the  purpose  of 
regulating  the  speed  of  the  engine.  This  was  a  point 
of  great  importance  in  all  cases  where  steam-power  was 
employed  in  processes  of  manufacture.  To  modify  the 
speed  of  the  piston  in  the  single-acting  pumping-engine, 
Watt  had  been  accustomed  to  use  what  is  called  a 
throttle  valve,  which  was  regulated  by  hand  as  occasion 
required.  But  he  saw  that  to  ensure  perfect  uniformity 
of  speed,  the  action  of  the  engine  must  be  made  auto- 
matic if  possible,  and  with  this  object  he  contrived  the 
Governor,  which  has  received  no  improvement  since  it 
left  his  hand.  Two  balls  are  fixed  to  the  ends  of  arms 
connected  with  the  engine  by  a  moveable  socket,  which 
plays  up  and  down  a  vertical  rod  re- 
volving by  a  band  placed  upon  the 
axis  or  spindle  of  the  fly-wheel.  Ac- 
cording to  the  centrifugal  force  with 
which  the  balls  revolve,  they  diverge 
more  or  less  from  the  central  fixed 
point,  and  push  lip  or  draw  down  the 
moveable  collar ;  which,  being  con- 
nected by  a  crank  with  the  throttle- 
valve,  thereby  regulates  with  the  most 
perfect  precision  the  passage  of  the 
steam  between  the  boiler  and  the 
cylinder.  When  the  pressure  of  steam 
is  great,  and  the  tendency  of  the  en- 
gine is  to  go  faster,  the  governor 
shuts  off  the  steam ;  and  when  it  is  less,  the  governor 
opens  the  throttle-valve  and  increases  the  supply.  By 


1  The  parallel  motion  was  first  put 
in  practice  in  the  engine  erected  for 
Mr.  Whitbread ;.  Watt  informing 

Boulton  (27th  October,  1785)  that 
"  the  parallel  motion  of  Whitbread's 
answers  admirably." 


this  simple  and  elegant  contrivance  the  engine  is  made 
to  regulate  its  own  speed  with  the  most  beautiful  pre- 

Among  the  numerous  proposed  applications  of  the 
steam-engine  about  this  time,  was  its  employment  as 
a  locomotive  in  driving  wheel-carriages.  It  will  be 
remembered  that  Watt's  friend  Robison  had,  at  a  very 
early  period,  directed  his  attention  to  the  subject ;  and 
the  idea  had  since  been  revived  by  Mr.  Edgeworth, 
who  laboured  with  great  zeal  to  indoctrinate  Watt  with 
his  views.  The  latter,  though  he  had  but  little  faith  in 
the  project,  nevertheless  included  a  plan  of  a  locomotive 
engine  in  his  patent  of  1784 ;  but  he  took  no  steps  to 
put  it  in  execution,  being  too  much  engrossed  with 
other  business  at  the  time,  His  plan  contemplated  the 
employment  of  steam  either  in  the  form  of  high-pressure 
or  low-pressure,  working  the  pistons  by  the  force  of 
steam  only,  and  discharging  it  into  the  atmosphere 
after  it  had  performed  its  office,  or  discharging  it  into 
an  air-tight  condenser  made  of  thin  plates  or  pipes,  with 
their  outsides  exposed  to  the  wind  or  to  an  artificial 
current  of  air,  thereby  economising  the  water  which 
would  otherwise  be  lost. 

Watt  did  not  carry  his  design  into  effect ;  and,  so  far 
as  he  was  concerned,  the  question  of  steam  locomotion 
would  have  gone  no  further.  But  the  subject  had 
already  attracted  the  attention  of  William  Murdock, 
who  had  for  some  time  been  occupied  during  his  leisure 
hours  in  constructing  an  actual  working  model  of  a 
locomotive.  When  his  model  was  finished,  he  proceeded 
to  try  it  in  the  long  avenue  leading  to  the  parsonage  at 
Redruth,  in  the  summer  of  1784;  and  in  so  doing 
nearly  frightened  out  of  his  wits  the  village  pastor, 
who  encountered  the  hissing,  fiery  little  machine,  while 
enjoying  his  evening  walk.1 

Lives  of  Engineers,'  iii.  77. 




When  Watt  heard  of  this  experiment,  he  wrote  to 
Boulton,  advising  that  Murdock  should  be  gently  coun- 
selled to  give  up  his  scheme,  which  might  have  the 
effect  of  withdrawing  him  from  the  work  of  the  firm, 
in  which  he  had  become  increasingly  useful. 

"As  to  my  own  part,"  wrote  Watt,  "  I  shall  form  no  obstacle  to 
the  scheme.  My  only  reasons  against  it  were  that  I  feared  it  would 
deprive  us  of  a  valuable  man ;  that  it  would,  if  we  were  to  be  con- 
cerned in  it,  divert  us  from  more  valuable  business,  and  perhaps 
prove  a  sinking  fund ;  and  lastly,  that  I  did  not  like  that  a  scheme 
which  I  had  revolved  in  my  mind  for  years  and  hoped  to  be  able  at 
some  favourable  time  to  bring  to  perfection,  if  capable  of  it,  should 
be  wrested  from  me,  or  that  I  should  be  compelled  to  go  into  it  as  a 
secondary  person.  But  I  have  now  made  the  latter  objection  give 
way.  And  as  to  the  first,  I  think  it  will  take  place  at  any  rate,  so 
we  must  make  the  best  of  it." l 

Boulton  was  accordingly  recommended  in  the  first 
place  to  endeavour  to  dissuade  Murdock  from  pursuing 
the  subject  further,  but  if  he  could  riot  succeed  in  that, 
rather  than  lose  him,  he  was  to  let  him  have  an  advance 
to  the  extent  of  100/.,  to  enable  him  to  prosecute  his 
experiments;  and  if  within  a  year  he  succeeded  in 
making  an  engine  capable  of  drawing  a  postchaise 
carrying  two  ordinary  persons  and  the  driver,  with 
200  Ibs.  of  luggage,  fuel  for  four  hours,  and  water  for 
two  hours,  going  at  the  rate  of  four  miles  an  hour,  then 
a  partnership  was  to  be  entered  into,  in  which  Boulton 
and  Watt  were  to  find  the  capital,  and  Murdock  was  to 
conduct  the  business  and  take  his  share  of  the  profits. 

1  In  a  letter  dated  28th  August, 
1784,  Watt  communicated  his  views 
to  his  partner  on  the  subject  of  loco- 
motive engines  at  great  length.  In 
the  course  of  the  letter  he  says, — 

"  My  original  ideas  on  this  subject  were 
prior  to  my  invention  of  the  improved 
engines,  or  before  the  crank  or  any  other 
rotative  motions  were  thought  of.  My 
plan  then  was  to  have  two  inverted  cylin- 
ders with  toothed  racks  instead  of  piston 
rods,  which  were  to  be  applied  to  the 
ratchet  wheels  on  the  axletree,  and  to  act 
alternately  ;  and  I  am  partly  of  opinion  that 

this  method  might  be  applied  with  advan- 
tage yet,  because  it  needs  no  fly,  and  has 
other  conveniences. 

"  From  what  I  have  said,  and  from  much 
more  which  a  little  reflection  will  suggest 
to  you,  you  will  see  that  without  several 
circumstances  turn  out  more  favourable  than 
has  been  stated,  the  machine  will  be  clumsy 
and  defective,  and  that  it  will  cost  much 
time  to  bring  it  to  any  tolerable  degree  of 
perfection ;  and  that  for  me  to  attempt  to 
interrupt  the  career  of  my  business  to  bestow 
any  attention  to  it,  would  be  imprudent. 
I  even  grudge  the  time  I  have  taken  to  write 
these  comments  on  it." 




Murdock,  however,  had  so  many  urgent  matters  to 
attend  to,  that,  sanguine  though  he  continued  to  be  as 
to  the  success  of  his  scheme,  he  could  not  find  time 
to  pursue  it.  He  was  a  man  after  Boulton's  own  heart, 
unsparing  of  himself  and  indefatigable  in  whatsoever 
he  undertook ;  nor  was  Boulton  sparing  of  praises  of 
him  in  his  confidential  letters  to  Watt. 

"  We  want  more  Murdocks,"  he  wrote  on  one  occasion,  "  for  of  all 
our  men  he  is  the  most  active.  He  is  the  best  engine  erector  I  ever 
saw,  and  of  his  energy  I  had  one  of  the  best  proofs  this  day.  They 
stopped  Poldice  lower  engine  last  Monday  and  took  her  all  to  pieces ; 
took  out  the  condenser,  took  up  out  of  the  shaft  the  greatest  part  of 
the  pumps,  took  the  nozzles  to  pieces,  cut  out  the  iron  seatings  and 
put  in  brass  ones  with  new  valves,  mended  the  eduction-pipe, 
and  did  a  great  number  of  repairs  about  the  beam  and  engine  ;  put 
the  pumps  down  into  the  new  engine  shaft,  did  much  work  at  the 
new  engine ;  and  this  done,  about  noon  both  the  engines,  new  and 
old,  were  set  to  work  again  complete.  When  I  look  at  the  work 
done  it  astonishes  me,  and  is  entirely  owing  to  the  spirit  and 
activity  of  Murdock,  who  hath  not  gone  to  bed  for  three  nights, 
and  I  expect  the  mine  will  be  in  full  fork  again  by  Wednesday 
night.  I  have  got  him  into  good  humour  again  without  any 
coaxing,  have  prevailed  on  him  not  to  give  up  Wheal  Virgin 
engine,  which  he  had  been  resolved  to  do  from  the  ungenerous 
treatment  he  received  from  the  captains.  I  have  also  prevailed  on 
him  to  put  off  his  determined  journey  to  Scotland  until  North 
Downs  engines  are  got  to  work,  and  have  quieted  his  mind  about 
wheel  carriages  till  then." ' 

Notwithstanding  Watt's  fears  of  a  falling   off,  the 

1  Boulton  to  Watt,  8th  November, 
1784.  Though  Murdock  was  thus 
occupied,  he  did  not  abandon  his  idea 
of  making  a  working  locomotive.  Two 
years  later  we  find  Watt  thus  writing 
Boulton  : — 

"  I  am  extremely  sorry  that  W.  Murdock 
still  busies  himself  with  the  steam  carriages. 
In  one  of  my  specifications  I  have  secured  it, 
as  well  as  words  could  do,  according  to  my 
idea  of  it,  and  if  to  that  you  add  Syming- 
ton's and  Sadler's  patents,  it  can  scarcely  be 
patentable,  even  if  free  of  the  general  specifi- 
cation in  the  Act  of  Parliament ;  for  even 
granting  that  what  I  have  done  cannot  secure 
it,  yet  it  can  act  as  a  prior  invention  against 
anybody  else  ;  and  if  it  cannot  be  secured  by 

patent,  to  what  purpose  should  anybody 
labour  at  it  ?  1  have  still  the  same  opinions 
concerning  it  that  1  had,  but  to  prevent  as 
much  as  possible  more  fruitless  argument 
about  it,  1  have  one  of  some  size  under  hand, 
and  am  resolved  to  try  if  God  will  work  a 
miracle  in  favour  of  these  carriages.  I  shall 
in  some  future  letter  send  you  the  words  of 
my  specification  on  that  subject.  In  the 
mean  time  I  wish  William  could  be  brought 
to  do  as  we  do,  to  mind  the  business  in 
hand,  and  let  such  as  Symington  and  Sadler 
!  throw  away  their  time  and  money  in  hunting 
shadows."  —  Watt  to  Boulton,  12th  Sept., 
1786.  In  a  subsequent  letter,  Watt  ex- 
presses himself  as  much  gratified  to  learn 
"  that  William  applies  to  his  business." 



POLGOOTH.      QBy   R.    P.   Leitch.] 

engine  business  still  continued  to  prosper  in  Cornwall. 
Although  the  mining  interests  were  suffering  from 
continued  depression,  new  mines  were  being  opened 
out,  for  which  pumping-engines  were  wanted ;  and 
Boulton  and  Watt's  continued  to  maintain  their  supe- 
riority over  all  others.  None  of  their  threatened  rivals 
had  yet  been  able  to  exhibit  an  engine  in  successful 
work;  and  those  of  the  old  construction  had  been 
almost  completely  superseded.  In  1784,  new  engines 
were  in  course  of  erection  at  Poldice,  New  Poldory, 
Wheal  Maid,  Polgooth,  and  other  mines.  Almost  the 
last  of  the  Newcomen  engines  in  Cornwall  had  been 
discarded  at  Polgooth  in  favour  of  one  of  Boulton  and 
Watt's  58-inch  cylinder  engines. 

The  dues  paid  yearly  in  respect  of  these  and  other 
engines  previously  erected  were  very  considerable ; 
Boulton  estimating  that,  if  duly  paid,  they  would 
amount  to  about  12, GOO/,  a  year.  There  seemed,  there- 

z  2 


fore,  every  reasonable  prospect  of  the  financial  difficulties 
of  the  firm  at  last  coming  to  an  end. 

Boulton's  visit  to  Cornwall  on  this  occasion  was  en- 
livened by  the  companionship  of  his  wife,  and  her  friend 
Miss  Mynd.  Towards  midsummer  he  looked  forward  with 
anticipations  of  increased  pleasure  to  the  visit  of  his  two 
children — his  son  Matt  and  his  daughter  Nancy — during 
their  school  holidays.  It  was  a  source  of  much  regret  to 
him,  affectionate  as  his  nature  was,  that  the  engrossing 
character  of  his  business  prevented  him  enjoying  the 
society  of  his  family  so  much  as  he  desired.  But  he 
endeavoured  to  make  up  for  it  by  maintaining  a  regular 
correspondence  with  them  when  absent.  His  letters  to 
his  children  were  full  of  playfulness,  affection,  and  good 
advice.  To  his  son  at  school  he  wrote  telling  him  of 
his  life  in  Cornwall,  describing  to  him  the  house  at 
Cosgarne,  the  garden  and  the  trees  he  had  planted 
in  it,  the .  pleasant  rides  in  the  neighbourhood,  and  the 
visit  he  had  just  been  paying  to  the  top  of  Pendennis 
Castle,  from  which  he  had  seen  about  a  hundred  sail  of 
ships  at  sea,  and  a  boundless  prospect  of  land  and  water. 
He  proceeded  to  tell  him  of  the  quantity  of  work  he  did 
connected  with  the  engine  business,  how  he  had  no 
clerk  to  assist  him,  but  did  all  the  writing  and  drawing 
of  plans  himself:  "When  I  have  time,"  said  he,  "I 
pick  up  curiosities  in  ores  for  the  purpose  of  assays,  for 
I  have  a  laboratory  here.  There  is  nothing  would  so 
much  add  to  my  pleasure  as  having  your  assistance  in 
making  solutions,  precipitates,  evaporations,  and  crystal- 
lisations." After  giving  his  son  some  good  advice  as 
to  the  cultivation  of  his  mind,  as  calculated  to  render 
him  an  intelligent  and  useful  member  of  society,  he  pro- 
ceeded to  urge  upon  him  the  duty  of  cultivating  polite 
manners,  as  a  means  of  making  himself  agreeable  to 
others,  and  at  the  same  time  of  promoting  his  own 
comfort.  "  But  remember,"  he  added,  "  I  do  not  wish 
you  to  be  polite  at  the  expense  of  honour,  truth,  sin- 


cerity,  and  honesty  ;  for  these  are  the  props  of  a  manly 
character,  and  without  them  politeness  is  mean  and 
deceitful.  Therefore,  be  always  tenacious  of  your  honour. 
Be  honest,  just,  and  benevolent,  even  when  it  appears 
difficult  to  be  so.  I  say,  cherish  those  principles,  and 
guard  them  as  sacred  treasures." 

At  length  his  son  and  daughter  joined  him  and  took 
part  in  his  domestic  and  out-door  enjoyments.  They 
accompanied  him  in  his  drives  and  rides,  and  Matt  took 
part  in  his  chemical  experiments.  One  of  their  great 
delights  was  the  fabrication  of  an  immense  paper  bal- 
loon, and  the  making  of  the  hydrogen  gas  to  fill  it 
with.  After  great  preparations  the  balloon  was  made  and 
filled,  and  sent  up  in  the  field  behind  the  house,  to  the 
delight  of  all  concerned.  To  Mrs.  Watt  he  wrote 
expressing  to  her  how  much  pleasanter  his  residence  in 
Cornwall  had  become  since  his  son  and  daughter's  visit. 
"  I  shall  be  happier,"  he  said,  "  during  the  remainder  of 
my  residence  here  than  in  the  former  part  of  it ;  for  I 
am  ill  calculated  to  live  alone  in  an  enemy's  country, 
and  to  contest  lawsuits.  Besides,  the  only  source  of 
happiness  I  look  for  in  my  future  life  is  in  my  children. 
Matt  behaves  extremely  well,  is  active  and  good- 
humoured;  and  my  daughter,  too,  has,  I  think,  good 
dispositions  and  sentiments,  which  I  shall  cherish,  and 
prevent  as  much  as  possible  from  being  sullied  by 
narrow  and  illiberal-minded  companions."  After  a  few 
months'  pleasant  social  intercourse  with  his  family  at 
Cosgarne,  varied  by  occasional  bickerings  with  the 
adventurers  out  of  doors  about  dues,  Boulton  returned 
to  Birmingham,  to  enter  upon  new  duties  and  undertake 
new  enterprises. 




WHEN  Boulton  returned  to  Birmingham,  lie  was  urgently 
called  upon  to  take  part  in  a  movement  altogether  foreign 
to  his  habits.  He  had  heretofore  been  too  much  engrossed 
by  business  to  admit  of  his  taking  any  active  part  in 
political  affairs.  Being,  however,  of  an  active  tempera- 
ment, and  mixing  with  men  of  all  classes,  he  could  not 
but  feel  an  interest  in  the  public  movements  of  his  time. 
Early  in  1784,  we  find  him  taking  the  lead  in  getting 
up  a  loyal  address  to  the  King  on  the  resignation  of  the 
Portland  Administration  and  the  appointment  of  Mr. 
Pitt  as  Prime  Minister.  It  appears,  however,  that  Pitt 
disappointed  his  expectations.  One  of  his  first  projects 
was  a  scheme  of  taxation,  which  he  introduced  for  the 
purpose  of  remedying  the  disordered  state  of  the  finances, 
but  which,  in  Boulton's  opinion,  would,  if  carried,  have 
the  effect  of  seriously  damaging  the  national  industry. 
The  Minister  proposed  to  tax  coal,  iron,  copper,  and 
other  raw  materials  of  manufacture,  to  the  amount  of 
about  a  million  a  year.  Boulton  immediately  bestirred 
himself  to  oppose  the  adoption  of  the  scheme.  He  held 
that  for  a  manufacturing  nation  to  tax  the  raw  mate- 
rials of  wealth  was  a  suicidal  measure,  calculated,  if 
persevered  in,  to  involve  the  producers  of  wealth  in 
ruin.  "  Let  taxes,"  he  said,  "be  laid  upon  luxuries,  upon 
vices,  and  if  you  like  upon  property ;  tax  riches  when 
got,  and  the  expenditure  of  them,  but  not  the  means  of 


getting  them  ;  of  all  things,  don't  cut  open  the  hen  that 
lays  the  golden  eggs."  l 

Petitions  and  memorials  were  forthwith  got  up  in  the 
midland  counties,  and  presented  against  the  measure ; 
and  Boulton  being  recognised  as  the  leader  of  the 
movement  in  his  district,  was  summoned  by  Mr.  Pitt  to 
London  to  an  interview  with  him  on  the  subject.  He 
then  took  the  opportunity  of  pressing  upon  the  Minister 
the  necessity  of  taking  measures  to  secure  reciprocity  of 
trade  with  foreign  nations,  as  being  of  vital  importance 
to  the  trade  of  England.  Writing  to  his  partner 
Scale,  he  said,  "  Surely  our  Ministers  must  be  bad  poli- 
ticians, to  suffer  the  gates  of  nearly  every  commercial 
city  in  the  world  to  be  shut  against  us."  "  There  is  no 
doubt,"  he  wrote  to  his  friend  Garbett,  "  but  the  edicts, 
prohibitions,  and  high  duties  laid  upon  our  manufac- 
turers by  foreign  powers  will  be  severely  felt,  unless 
some  new  commercial  treaties  are  entered  into  with 
such  powers.  I  fear  our  young  Minister  is  not  suffi- 
ciently aware  of  the  importance  of  the  subject,  and  I 
likewise  fear  he  will  pledge  himself  before  Parliament 
meets  to  carry  other  measures  in  the  next  session  that 
will  be  as  odious  to  the  country  as  his  late  attempts.'* 

As  Boulton  had  anticipated,  the  Ministry  introduced 
several  important  measures,  calculated  to  have  a  highly 
injurious  effect  upon  English  industry,  and  he  imme- 
diately bestirred  himself,  in  conjunction  with  Josiah 
Wedgwood,  of  Etruria,  to  organise  a  movement  in 
opposition  to  them.  Wedgwood  and  Boulton  met  at 
Birmingham  in  February,  1785,  and  arranged  to 
assemble  a  meeting  of  delegates  from  the  manufac- 
turing districts,  who  were  to  meet  and  sit  in  London 
"  all  the  time  the  Irish  commercial  affairs  were  pending." 
A  printed  statement  of  the  objects  of  the  movement 

1  Boulton  to  Wilson,  16th  December,  1784.     Boulton  MSS. 



was  circulated,  and  Boulton  and  Wedgwood  wrote  to 
their  friends  in  all  quarters  to  meet  and  appoint  dele- 
gates to  the  central  committee  in  London.  Boulton  was 
unanimously  appointed  the  delegate  for  Birmingham, 
and  he  proceeded  to  London  furnished  with  a  bundle  of 
petitions  from  his  neighbourhood.  The  delegates  pro- 
ceeded to  form  themselves  into  a  Chamber  of  Manu- 
facturers, over  the  deliberations  of  which  Wedgwood, 
Boulton,  or  John  Wilkinson  usually  presided. 

The  principal  object  of  these  meetings  and  petitionings 
was  to  prevent,  if  possible,  the  imposition  of  the  pro- 
posed taxes  on  coal,  iron,  and  raw  materials  generally, 
as  well  as  the  proposed  export  duties  on  manu- 
factured articles.  At  a  time  when  foreign  govern- 
ments were  seeking  to  exclude  English  manufactures 
from  their  dominions  by  heavy  import  duties,  it  was  felt 
that  this  double  burden  was  more  than  English  industry 
could  bear.  The  Irish  Parliament  were  at  the  same  time 
legislating  in  a  hostile  spirit  towards  English  commerce ; 
imposing  taxes  upon  all  manufactures  imported  into 
Ireland  from  England,  while  Irish  manufactures  were 
not  only  sent  into  England  duty  free,  but  their  own 
parliament  encouraged  them  by  a  bounty  on  exportation. 
The  committee  strongly  expostulated  against  the  partial 
and  unjust  spirit  of  this  legislation,  and  petitioned  for 
free  interchange  on  equal  terms.  So  long  as  such  a 
state  of  things  continued,  the  petitioners  urged  that 
"  every  idea  of  reciprocity  in  the  interchange  of  manu- 
factures between  Britain  and  Ireland  was  a  mere 
mockery  of  words." 

Although  Watt  was  naturally  averse  to  taking  any 
public  part  in  politics,  his  services  were  enlisted  in  the 
cause,  and  he  drew  up  for  circulation  "An  answer  to  the 
Treasury  Paper  on  the  Iron  Trade  of  England  and 
Ireland."  The  object  of  his  statement  was  to  show  that 
the  true  way  of  encouraging  manufactures  in  Ireland 
was,  not  by  bounties,  not  by  prohibitions,  but  by  entire 


freedom  of  industry.  It  was  asserted  by  the  supporters 
of  the  propositions,  that  the  natives  of  Ireland  were 
ignorant,  indolent,  and  poor.  "  If  they  be  so,"  said  Watt, 
"the  best  method  of  giving  them  vigour  is  to  have 
recourse  to  British  manufacturers,  possessed  of  capital, 
industry,  and  knowledge  of  trade."  The  old  covenanting 
spirit  of  his  race  fairly  breaks  out  in  the  following 
passage  : — 

"It  is  contemptible  nonsense  to  argue  that  because  Ireland  has 
never  had  iron  manufactories  she  cannot  soon  have  them.  .  .  .  One 
hundred  years  ago  the  Irish  had  no  linen  manufacture ;  they 
imported  linen ;  and  now  they  sell  to  us  to  the  amount  of  a  million 
annually.  How  came  this  about  ?  The  civil  wars  under  Charles  L, 
and  the  tyranny  of  the  Scotch  Privy  Council  under  Charles  II., 
chased  the  people  out  of  Scotland,  because  they  were  Presbyterians. 
Ireland  received  and  protected  them;  they  peopled  the  northern 
provinces;  many  of  them  were  weavers;  they  followed  their 
business  in  Ireland,  and  taught  others.  Philip  II.  chased  the 
inhabitants  out  of  Flanders,  on  account  of  religion ;  Queen  Elizabeth 
received  and  protected  them ;  and  England  learnt  to  manufacture 
woollen  cloth.  The  persecutions  of  Lewis  XIV.  occasioned  the 
establishment  of  a  colony  in  Spitalfields.  And  the  Parliament 

of  Britain,  under  the  auspices  of and ,  and  others,  imposed 

oppressive  duties  on  glass ;  and 's  Act  gave  the  Irish  liberty  to 

export  it  to  our  Colonies ;  the  glass-makers  fled  from  the  tyranny 
of  the  Excise ;  Ireland  has  now  nine  glass-houses.  Britain  has  lost 
the  export  trade  of  that  article !  More  examples  of  the  migrations 
of  manufactures  could  be  adduced,  but  it  seems  unnecessary ;  for  it 
cannot  be  denied  that  men  will  fly  from  tyranny  to  liberty,  whether 
Philip's  Priests,  Charles's  Dragoons,  or  our  Excisemen  be  the 
instruments  of  the  tyranny.  And  it  must  also  be  allowed  that 
even  the  Inquisition  itself  is  not  more  formidable  than  our  Excise 
Laws  (as  far  as  property  is  concerned)  to  those  who  unhappily  are 
subjected  to  them." 

Towards  the  end  of  the  statement  he  asks,  "  Would  it 
not  be  more  manly  and  proper  at  once  to  invite  the  Irish 
to  come  into  a  perfect  union  with  Britain,  and  to  pay 
the  same  duties  and  excises  that  we  do?  Then  every 
distinction  of  country  might  with  justice  be  done  away 
with,  and  they  would  have  a  fair  claim  to  all  the 
advantages  which  we  enjoy." 


The  result  of  the  agitation  was  that  most  of  the  pro- 
posals to  impose  new  taxes  on  the  raw  materials  of 
manufacture  were  withdrawn  by  the  Ministry,  and  the 
Irish  resolutions  were  considerably  modified.  But  the 
relations  of  British  and  Irish  industry  were  by  no  means 
settled.  The  Irish  Parliament  might  refuse  to  affirm 
the  resolutions  adopted  by  the  British  Parliament,  in 
which  case  it  might  be  necessary  again  to  oppose  the 
Ministerial  measures ;  and  to  provide  for  this  con- 
tingency, the  delegates  separated,  with  the  resolution  to 
maintain  and  extend  their  organisation  in  the  manu- 
facturing districts.  Watt  did  not,  however,  like  the 
idea  of  his  partner  becoming  engrossed  in  political 
agitation,  even  in  matters  relating  to  commerce.  He 
accordingly  wrote  to  Boulton  in  London,  "  I  find  myself 
quite  unequal  to  the  various  business  now  lying  behind, 
and  wish  much  you  were  at  home,  and  that  you  would 
direct  your  attention  solely  to  your  own  and  to  Boulton 
and  Watt's  business  until  affairs  can  be  brought  into 
reasonable  compass."1  Later  he  wrote,— "At  Manchester 
they  are  busy  making  a  collection  for  the  Chamber  of 
Manufacturers,  which  I  fancy  will  be  in  vogue  again 
next  winter.  But  I  hope  that  neither  you  nor  I  will  be 
mad  enough  to  be  demagogues  then.  Let  us  leave  that 
to  those  who  can  defy  Ministers,  and  get  our  property 
secured,  which  may  be  done  in  the  confusion." 

Watt  was  at  this  time  distressed  by  an  adverse  decision 
against  the  firm  in  one  of  the  Scotch  courts.  "  I  have 
generally  observed,"  he  wrote,  "that  there  is  a  tide  in 
our  affairs.  We  have  had  peace  for  some  time,  but  now 
cross  accidents  have  begun,  and  more  are  to  be  feared." 
His  anxieties  were  increased  by  the  rumour  which 
reached  his  ears  from  several  quarters  of  a  grand  com- 
bination of  opulent  manufacturers  to  make  use  of  every 
beneficial  patent  that  had  been  taken  out,  and  cut  them 

Watt  to  Boulton,  3 1st  March,  1785. 



down  by  scire  facias,  as  they  had  already  cut  down 
Arkwright's.  It  was  said  that  subscriptions  had 
been  obtained  by  the  association  amounting  to  50,000/. 
Watt  was  requested  to  join  a  counter  combination  of 
patentees  to  resist  the  threatened  proceedings.  To  this, 
however,  he  objected,  011  the  ground  that  the  associa- 
tion of  men  to  support  one  another  in  lawsuits  was 
illegal,  and  would  preclude  the  members  from  giving 
evidence  in  support  of  each  other's  rights.  "  Besides," 
said  he,  "  the  greater  number  of  patentees  are  such  as 
we  could  not  associate  with,  and  if  we  did  it  would  do 
us  more  harm  than  good." ] 

Towards  the  end  of  1785  the  engines  which  had  been 
in  hand  were  nearly  finished,  and  work  was  getting 
slacker  than  usual  at  Soho.  Though  new  orders  gave 
Watt  trouble,  and  occasioned  him  anxiety,  still  he  would 

1  Watt  to  Boulton,  21st  July, 
1785.  Writing  to  Boulton  on  a  later 
occasion  on  the  subject  of  these 
threatened  attacks  on  all  patents,  he 
said,  "  A  pursuance  of  such  decisions 
as  have  been  given  lately  in  several 
cases  must  at  length  drive  men  of 
invention  to  take  shelter  in  countries 
where  their  ingenuity  will  be  pro- 
tected ;  and  the  other  states  of  Europe 
know  their  interest  too  well  to  neglect 
any  opportunity  of  curbing  the  inso- 
lence and  humbling  the  pride  of 
Britain.  If  the  minister  should  not 
think  it  right  to  amend  and  confirm 
the  patent  laws,  the  next  best  thing 
would  be  to  make  a  law  totally  taking 
away  the  king's  power  of  granting 
them.  1  mean,  this  would  be  the 
honest  part."— Watt  to  Boulton,  19th 
March,  1786.  Boulton  himself  had 
equally  strong  views  on  the  subject  of 
patents,  believing  that  they  tended  to 
encourage  industrious  and  ingenious 
men  to  labour  for  the  common  good. 
Referring  to  the  decision  against  Ar- 
gand's  lamp  patent,  he  wrote  De  Luc 
in  1787, — "  It  was  hard,  unjust,  and 
impolitic,  as  it  hath  (to  my  knowledge) 
discouraged  a  very  ingenious  French 
chemist  from  coniiim'  over  and  estab- 

lishing in  this  country  an  invention 
of  the  highest  importance  to  one  of  our 
greatest  manufactures.  Moreover,  it 
tends  to  destroy  the  greatest  of  all 
stimulants  to  invention,  viz.  the  idea 
of  enjoying  the  fruits  of  one's  own 
labour.  Some  late  decisions  against 
the  validity  of  certain  patents  have 
raised  the  spirits  of  the  illiberal,  sordid, 
unjust,  ungenerous,  and  inventionless 
misers,  who  prey  upon  the  vitals  of 
the  ingenious,  and  make  haste  to  seize 
upon  what  their  laborious  and  often 
costly  application  has  produced.  The 
decisions  to  which  I  refer  have  en- 
couraged a  combination  in  Cornwall  to 
erect  engines  on  Boulton  and  Watt's 
principles,  contrary  to  the  Law  of 
Patents  and  the  express  provisions  of 
an  Act  of  Parliament ;  and  this  they 
are  setting  about  in  order  to  drive  us 
into  a  court  of  law,  flattering  them- 
selves that  it  is  the  present  disposition 
of  the  judges  to  set  their  faces  against 
all  patents.  Should  such  a  disposition 
(so  contrary  to  Lord  Mansfield's  deci- 
sions) continue  to  prevail,  it  will  pro- 
duce far  greater  evils  to  the  manufac- 
turing industry  of  the  kingdom  than 
the  gentlemen  of  the  law  can  have  any 
idea  of." 


rather  not  be  without  them.  "  It  will  be  well,"  he 
wrote  to  his  partner,  "  if  we  can  get  some  orders  now 
for  engines  worth  while.  What  we  have  been  doing 
lately  has  been  very  trifling,  and  if  we  don't  get  orders 
soon,  our  men  will  be  idle.  As  it  happens  at  present, 
we  have  at  least  three  engineers  too  few  here,  there 
being  eight  engines  to  be  done  in  two  or  three  months, 
and  only  three  engineers."  l  It  was  matter  of  grati- 
fication to  Watt  to  be  able  to  report  that  the  en- 
gines last  delivered  had  given  great  satisfaction.  The 
mechanics  were  improving  in  skill,  and  their  workman- 
ship was  becoming  of  a  superior  character.  "Strood 
and  Curtis's  engine,"  said  he,  "  has  been  at  work  some 
time,  and  does  very  well.  Whi thread's  has  also  been 
tried,  and  performs  exceedingly  well."  The  success  of 
Whitbread's  engine  was  such  that  it  had  the  honour 
of  a  visit  from  the  King,  who  was  greatly  pleaded  with 
its  performances.  Not  to  be  outdone,  "  Felix  Calvert," 
wrote  Watt,  "  has  bespoken  one,  which  is  to  outdo 
Whitbread's  in  magnificence." 

The  slackness  of  work  at  Soho  was  not  of  long  con- 
tinuance. Orders  for  rotative  engines  came  in  gradually ; 
one  from  Harris,  of  Nottingham ;  another  from  Mac- 
clesfield,  to  drive  a  silk-mill ;  a  third  from  Edinburgh, 
for  the  purposes  of  a  distillery ;  and  others  from  different 
quarters.  The  influx  of  orders  had  the  effect  at  the 
same  time  of  filling  Soho  with  work,  and  plunging 
Watt  into  his  usual  labyrinth  of  perplexity  and  distress. 
In  September  we  find  him  writing  to  Boulton.— 

"  My  health  is  so  bad  that  I  do  not  think  I  can  hold  out  much 
longer,  at  least  as  a  man  of  business,  and  I  wish  to  consolidate 
something  before  I  give  over."  .  .  .  Again,  "  I  cannot  help  being 
dispirited,  because  I  find  my  head  fail  me  much,  business  an 
excessive  burden  to  me,  and  little  prospect  of  my  speedy  release 
from  it.  Were  we  both  young  and  healthy,  I  should  see  no  reason 
to  despair,  but  very  much  the  contrary.  However,  we  must  do  the 

Watt  to  Boulton,  27th  August,  1785. 


best  we  can,  and  hope  for  quiet  in  heaven  when  our  weary  bones 
are  laid  to  rest."  * 

A  few  months  later,  so  many  more  orders  had  come 
in,  that  Watt  described  Soho  as  "  fast  for  the  next  four 
months,"  but  the  additional  work  only  had  the  effect  of 
increasing  his  headaches.  "  In  the  anguish  of  my  mind," 
he  wrote,  "  amid  the  vexations  occasioned  by  new  and 
unsuccessful  schemes,  like  Lovelace  I  '  curse  my  inven- 
tions,' and  almost  wish,  if  we  could  gather  our  money 
together,  that  somebody  else  should  succeed  in  getting 
our  trade  from  us.  However,  all  may  yet  be  well. 
Nature  can  be  conquered  if  we  can  but  find  out  her 
weak  side." 

We  return  to  the  affairs  of  the  Cornish  copper-miners, 
which  were  now  in  a  very  disheartening  condition. 
The  mines  were  badly  and  wastefully  worked ;  and  the 
competition  of  many  small  companies  of  poor  adven- 
turers kept  the  copper  trade  in  a  state  of  permanent 
depression.  In  this  crisis  of  their  affairs  it  was  deter- 
mined that  a  Copper  Company  should  be  formed,  backed 
by  ample  capital,  with  the  view  of  regulating  this  im- 
portant branch  of  industry,  and  rescuing  the  mines  and 
miners  from  ruin.  Boulton  took  an  active  part  in  its 
formation,  and  induced  many  of  his  intimate  friends  in 
the  north  to  subscribe  largely  for  shares.  An  arrange- 
ment was  entered  into  by  the  Company  with  the  adven- 
turers in  the  principal  mines,  to  buy  of  them  the  whole 
of  the  ore  raised,  at  remunerative  prices,  for  a  period  of 
eleven  years.  At  the  first  meeting,  held  in  September, 
1785,  for  the  election  of  Governor,  Deputy-Governor, 
and  Directors,  Boulton  held  in  his  hands  the  power  of 
determining  the  appointments,  representing,  as  he  did 
by  proxy,  shares  held  by  his  northern  friends  to  the 
amount  of  86,000£.  The  meeting  took  place  in  the 
Town-hall  at  Truro,  and  the  proceedings  passed  off 

1  Watt  to  Boulton,  24th  September,  1785. 


satisfactorily ;  Boulton  using  his  power  with  due  dis- 
cretion. "  We  met  again  on  Friday,"  he  wrote  to 
Matthews,  "and  chose  the  assay ers  and  other  sub- 
ordinate officers,  after  which  we  paid  our  subscriptions, 
and  dined  together,  all  in  good  humour ;  and  thus  this 
important  revolution  in  the  copper  trade  was  finally 
settled  for  eleven  years." 

Matters  were  not  yet,  however,  finally  settled,  as 
many  arrangements  had  to  be  made  for  setting  the 
Company  to  work,  in  which  Boulton  took  the  leading 
part;  the  Governor  and  Directors  pressing  him  not  to 
leave  Cornwall  until  they  were  definitely  settled.  It 
happened  to  suit  his  convenience  to  remain  until  the 
Wheal  Fortune  engine  was  finished — one  of  the  most 
formidable  engines  the  firm  had  yet  erected  in  Corn- 
wall. In  the  mean  time  he  entered  into  correspondence 
with  various  consumers  of  copper  at  home  and  abroad, 
with  the  object  of  finding  a  vend  for  the  metal.  He 
succeeded  in  obtaining  a  contract  through  Mr.  Hope,  of 
Amsterdam,  for  supplying  the  copper  required  for  the 
new  Dutch  coinage ;  and  he  opened  out  new  markets  for 
the  produce  in  other  quarters.  Being  a  large  holder  of 
mining  shares,  Boulton  also  tried  to  introduce  new  and 
economical  methods  of  working  the  mines ;  but  with 
comparatively  little  result.  To  Wilkinson  he  wrote,— 
"  Poldice  is  in  a  desponding  way,  and  must  give  up 
unless  better  managed.  North  Downs  is  managed  as 
badly  by  incapable,  ignorant,  drunken  captains,  who 
hold  their  posts  not  by  merit,  but  by  their  cousinship  to 

some  of  the  adventurers I  should  spend  a  great 

part  of  next  year  in  Cornwall,  and  make  myself  master 
of  the  minutiae.  I  think  I  could  then  accomplish  many 
necessary  regulations." 

Though  actively  bestirring  himself  for  the  good  of 
the  mining  interest,  Boulton  had  but  small  thanks  for 

1  Boulton  to  Wilkinson,  21st  November,  1785. 


his  pains.  The  prominence  of  his  position  had  this 
disadvantage,  that  if  the  price  of  the  ore  went  down, 
or  profits  declined,  or  the  yield  fell  off,  or  the  mines 
were  closed,  or  anything  went  wrong,  the  miners  were 
but  too  ready  to  identify  him  in  some  way  with  the  evil ; 
and  the  services  which  he  had  rendered  to  the  mining 
interest *  were  in  a  moment  forgotten.  On  one  occasion 
the  discontent  of  the  miners  broke  out  into  open  revolt, 
and  Boulton  was  even  threatened  with  personal  violence. 
The  United  Mines  having  proved  unprofitable  in  the 
working,  notice  was  given  by  the  manager  of  an  in- 
tended reduction  of  wages,  this  being  the  only  condition 
on  which  the  mines  could  be  carried  on.  If  this  could 
not  be  arranged,  the  works  must  be  closed,  as  the 
adventurers  declined  to  go  on  at  a  loss.  On  the  an- 
nouncement of  the  intended  lowering  of  wages  being 
made,  there  was  great  excitement  and  discontent  among 
the  workpeople.  Several  hundreds  of  them  hastily 
assembled  at  Eedruth,  and  took  the  road  for  Truro,  to 
pull  down  the  offices  of  the  Copper  Mining  Company, 
and  burn  the  house  of  the  manager.  They  were  especially 
furious  with  Boulton,  vowing  vengeance  on  him,  and 
declaring  that  they  would  pull  down  every  pumping- 
engine  he  had  set  up  in  Cornwall.  When  the  rioters 
reached  Truro,  they  found  a  body  of  men,  hastily  armed 
with  muskets  taken  from  the  arsenal,  stationed  in  front 
of  the  Copper  Mining  Company's  premises,  supported 
by  six  pieces  of  cannon.  At  sight  of  this  formidable  de- 
monstration the  miners  drew  back,  and,  muttering  threats 
that  they  would  repeat  their  visit,  returned  to  Eedruth 


1  Writing  to  M.  De  Luc,  the  Queen's 
Librarian,  of  what  he  and  his  partner 
had  done  for  Cornwall,  Boulton  said, 
— "  The  copper  and  tin  mines  of 
Cornwall  are  now  sunk  to  so  great  a 
depth  that  had  not  Mr.  Watt  and 
myself  nearly  expended  our  fortunes 
and  hazarded  our  ruin  by  neglecting 
our  regular  business,  and  by  a  long 
series  of  expensive  experiments  in 

bringing  our  engine  to  its  present 
degree  of  perfection,  those  mines  must 
inevitably  have  stopped  working,  and 
Cornwall  at  this  time  would  not  have 
existed  as  a  mining  county.  The  very 
article  of  extra  coals  lor  common 
engines  would  have  amounted  to  more 
than  the  entire  profits  of  their  work- 
ing."— Boulton  to  De  Luc,  31st  March, 


as  they  had  come.  Two  companies  of  soldiers  and  two 
of  local  militia  were  brought  into  the  town  immediately 
after ;  and  the  intended  assault  was  not  made.  When 
Watt  was  informed  of  the  violence  with  which  his 
partner  had  been  threatened,  he  wrote, — "  In  my  opinion 
nothing  can  be  more  ungrateful  than  the  behaviour  of 
those  people  who  endeavour  to  make  you  the  object 
of  the  resentment  of  the  mob,  at  a  time  when  (setting 
aside  former  services)  you  are  doing  all  that  lies  in  your 

power  to  serve  them If  you  still  find  the  same 

spirit  continue,  for  God's  sake  leave  them  immediately. 
The  law  can  reach  the  adventurers,  if  it  cannot  the 

This  was,  however,  but  the  wild  and  unreasoning 
clamour  of  misguided  and  ignorant  men.  Boulton  was 
personally  much  esteemed  by  all  who  were  able  to 
appreciate  his  character,  and  to  understand  the  position 
of  himself  and  his  partner  with  reference  to  the  engine 
patent.  The  larger  mining  owners  invited  him  to 
their  houses,  and  regarded  him  as  their  friend.  The 
more  intelligent  of  the  managers  were  his  strenuous 
supporters.  First  and  foremost  among  these  was  Mr. 
Phillips,  manager  of  the  Chace water  mines,  of  whom  he 
always  spoke  with  the  highest  respect,  as  a  man  of  the 
most  scrupulous  integrity  and  honour.  Mr.  Phillips 
was  a  member  of  the  Society  of  Friends,  and  his  wife 
Catherine  was  one  of  the  most  celebrated  preachers  of 
the  body.  Boulton  and  Watt  occasionally  resided  with 
them  before  the  house  at  Cosgarne  was  taken,  and 
conceived  for  both  the  warmest  friendship.  If  Watt  was 
attracted  by  the  Cornish  Anabaptists,  Boulton  was  equally 
so  by  the  Cornish  Quakers.  We  find  him,  in  one  of  his 
letters  to  Mrs.  Boulton,  describing  to  her  a  great  meeting 
of  Friends  at  Truro  which  he  had  attended,  "  when," 
he  said,  "  I  heard  our  friend  Catherine  Phillips  preach 
with  great  energy  and  good  sense  for  an  hour  and  a 
half,  although  so  weak  in  .body  that  she  was  obliged  to 


lie  abed  for  several  days  before."  Boulton  afterwards 
dined  with  the  whole  body  of  Friends  at  the  principal 
inn,  being  the  only  person  present  who  was  not  of  the 
Society;  and  he  confessed  to  have  spent  in  their  com- 
pany a  very  pleasant  evening.1 

We  return  to  the  progress  of  the  engine  business  at 
Soho.  The  most  important  work  in  hand  about  this 
time  was  the  double-acting  engine  intended  for  the 
Albion  Mill,  in  South wark.2  This  was  the  first  rota- 
tive with  a  parallel  motion  erected  in  London ;  and  as 
the  more  extended  use  of  the  engine  would  in  a  great 
measure  depend  upon  its  success,  the  firm  naturally 
looked  forward  with  very  great  interest  to  its  perform- 
ances. The  Albion  Mill  scheme  was  started  by  Boulton 
as  early  as  1783.  Orders  for  rotatives  were  then 
coming  in  very  slowly,  and  it  occurred  to  him  that  if  he 
had  but  the  opportunity  of  exhibiting  the  powers  of  the 
new  engine  in  its  best  form,  and  in  connexion  with 
the  best  machinery,  the  results  would  be  so  satisfactory 
and  conclusive  as  to  induce  manufacturers  generally 
to  follow  the  example.  On  applying  to  the  London 
capitalists,  Boulton  found  them  averse  to  the  under- 
taking ;  and  at  length  Boulton  and  Watt  became  per- 
suaded that  if  the  concern  was  to  be  launched  at  all,  they 

1  Two  clays  after  this  event,  when  j  garden  near    Kedruth.      Boulton,   in 
about  to  set  out  for  Polgooth,  a  mes-  j  writing  to  Mrs.  Boulton,  said,  "  I  wish 

senger  arrived  at  Boulton's  lodgings, 
bringing  him  the  sad  news  of  Mr. 
Phillips's  sudden  death.  He  describes 
the  scene  at  the  funeral,  at  which 
Catherine  Phillips,  though  strongly 
urged  by  him  to  stay  away,  insisted 
on  being  present.  "  She  was  attended 
by  a  widow  lady  who  had  lost  a  good 
husband  last  year,  and  though  she  had 
not  been  accustomed  to  speak  in  the 
congregation  of  the  righteous,  yet  on 
this  occasion  she  stood  with  her  hand 
upon  her  husband's  coffin  and  spoke 

I  had  time  to  give  you  the  history  and 
character  of  ray  departed  friend,  as 
you  know  but  little  of  his  excellences. 
I  cannot  say  but  that  I  feel  a  gloomy 
pleasure  in  dwelling  upon  the  life  and 
death  of  a  good  man :  it  incites  to 
piety  and  elevates  the  mind  above 
terrestrial  things.  Now,  let  me  ask 
you  to  hold  a  silent  meeting  in  your 
heart  for  half  an  hour  and  then  return 
to  your  work." 

2  The  Albion  Mill  engine  was  set 
to  work  in  1786.     The  first  rotative 

above  an  hour,  delivering  one  of  the  |  with  a  parallel  motion  in  Scotland, 
most  pathetic  discourses  I  ever  heard."  j  was  erected  for  Mr.  Stein,  of  Kennet 
A  large  concourse  of  people  attended  j  Pans  near  Alloa,  in  the  following 
the  interment,  which  took  place  in  a  year. 

2    A 




must  themselves  find  the  principal  part  of  the  capital. 
A  sufficient  number  of  shareholders  was  got  together  to 
make  a  start,  and  application  was  made  for  a  charter  of 
incorporation  in  1784 ;  but  it  was  so  strongly  opposed  by 
the  millers  and  mealmen,  on  the  ground  that  the  applica- 
tion of  steam-power  to  flour-grinding  would  throw  wind 
and  water  mills  out  of  work,  take  away  employment 
from  the  labouring  classes,  and  reduce  the  price  of 
bread,1  that  the  charter  was  refused ;  and  the  Albion 
Mill  Company  was  accordingly  constituted  on  the  ordi- 
nary principles  of  partnership. 

By  the  end  of  the  year  the  Albion  Mill  engines,  care- 
fully designed  by  Watt,  were  put  in  hand  at  Soho ;  the 
building  was  in  course  of  erection,  after  the  designs  of 
Mr.  Wyatt,  the  architect ;  while  John  Rennie,  the 
young  Scotch  engineer,  was  engaged  to  design  and  fit 
up  the  flour-grinding  and  dressing  machinery.  "  I  am 
glad,"  wrote  Boulton  to  Watt,  "  you  have  agreed  with 
Rennie.  Mills  are  a  great  field.  Think  of  the  crank 
— of  Wolf,  Trumpeter,  Wasp,  and  all  the  ghosts  we 
are  haunted  by."  The  whole  of  the  following  year 
was  occupied  in  the  erection  of  the  buildings  and  ma- 
chinery;  and  it  was  not  until  the  spring  of  1786  that 
the  mill  was  ready  to  start.  Being  the  first  enter- 
prise of  the  kind,  on  an  unprecedented  scale,  and  com- 
prising many  novel  combinations  of  machinery,  there 
were  many  "  hitches  "  before  it  could  be  got  to  work 
satisfactorily.  After  the  first  trial,  at  which  Boulton 
was  present,  he  wrote  his  partner  expressing  his  dis- 
satisfaction with  the  working  of  the  double-acting 

1  In  a  letter  to  Mr.  Matthews  (30th 
April,  1784)  Boulton  wrote,  —  "  It 
seems  the  millers  are  determined  to 
be  masters  of  ns  and  the  public. 
Putting  a  stop  to'  fire-engine  mills 
because  they  come  into  competition 
with  water-mills,  is  as  absurd  as 
stopping  navigable  canals  would  be 
because  they  interfere  with  farmers 
and  waggoners.  The  argument  also 

applies  to  wind  and  tide  mills  or  any 
other  means  whereby  corn  can  be 
ground.  So  all  machines  should  be 
stopped  whereby  men's  labour  is 
saved,  because  it  might  be  argued 
that  men  were  thereby  deprived  of  a 
livelihood.  Carry  out  the  argument, 
and  we  must  annihilate  water-mills 
themselves,  and  thus  go  back  again  to 
the  grinding  of  corn  by  hand  labour  !  " 




engine,  expressing  the  opinion  that  it  would  have  been 
better  if  they  had  held  by  the  single-acting  one.1     Watt 

1  Watt,     however,     continued     to 
adhere   to   his   own   views  as  to  the 
superiority  of  the  plan  adopted : — "  I  , 
am  sorry  to  find,"  he  observed  in  his 
reply  to  Boulton,  "  so  many  things  are  | 
amiss  at  Albion  Mill,  and  that  you  j 
have  lost  your  good  opinion  of  double  j 
engines,  while  my  opinion  of  them  is  j 
mended.      The   smoothness   of   their  ! 
going  depends  on  the  steam  regulators  j 
being  opened  a  little  before  the  vacuum  ' 

regulators,  and  not  opened  too  sud- 
denly, as  indeed  the  others  ought  not 
to  be.  Otherwise  the  shock  comes  so 
violently  in  the  opposite  direction  that 
no  pins  or  brasses  will  stand  it. 
Malcolm  has  no  notion  how  to  make 
gear  work  quietly,  nor  do  I  think  he 
properly  understands  it.  You  must 
therefore  attend  to  it  yourself,  and  not 
leave  it  until  it  is  more  perfect," — 
Watt  to  Boulton,  3rd  March,  1786. 

2  A  2 


was  urged  to  run  up  to  town  himself  and  set  matters  to 
rights ;  but  he  was  up  to  the  ears  in  work  at  Soho,  and 
could  not  leave  for  a  day. 

"  I  can  by  no  means  leave  home  at  present,"  he  wrote,  "  otherwise 
we  shall  suffer  much  greater  losses  than  can  come  from  the  Albion 
Mill.  The  work  for  Cornwall  which  must  be  planned  and  put  in 
train  is  immense,  and  there  will  more  come  from  that  quarter. 
Besides,  I  am  pulled  to  pieces  by  demands  for  forwardness  from 
every  side.  I  have  lost  ten  days  by  William  Murdock,  Wilson, 
Wilkinson,  and  headaches,  and  I  have  neither  health  nor  spirits  to 
make  the  necessary  exertions.  If  I  went  to  London  I  should  be  in 
torment  all  the  while  with  the  thoughts  of  what  was  lying  behind 

After  pointing  out  what  course  should  be  taken  to 
discover  and  remedy  the  faults  of  the  engine,  he  pro- 
ceeded : — 

"  Above  all,  patience  must  be  exercised  and  things  coolly 
examined  and  put  to  rights,  and  care  be  taken  not  to  blame 
innocent  parts.  Everything  must,  as  much  as  possible,  be  tried 
separately.  Eemind  those  who  begin  to  growl,  that  in  new,  com- 
plicated, and  difficult  things,  human  foresight  falls  short — that  time 
and  money  must  be  given  to  perfect  things  and  find  out  their  de- 
fects, otherwise  they  cannot  be  remedied." l 

Not  being  able  to  persuade  "Watt  to  come  to  his  help, 
Boulton  sent  to  Cornwall  for  Murdock,  always  ready  to 
lend  a  hand  on  an  emergency,  and  in  the  course  of  a 
few  weeks  he  was  in  town  at  work  upon  the  engines. 
The  result  is  best  told  in  Wyatt's  letter  to  Boulton,  who 
had  by  this  time  returned  to  Birmingham : — 

"  Mr.  Murdock  has  just  set  the  engine  to  work.  All  the  rods  are 
altered.  I  think  he  has  done  more  good  than  all  the  doctors 
we  have  had  before ;  and  his  manner  of  doing  it  has  been  very 
satisfactory — so  different  from  what  we  have  been  used  to.  He 
has  been  through  all  the  flues  himself,  and  really  takes  uncommon 
pains.  Pray  write  to  him ;  thank  him  for  his  attention.  He  will 
not  have  left  town  before  he  gets  your  letter,  and  press  him  to  stay 
as  long  as  he  can  be  essentially  serviceable." 

There  was,  however,  so  great  a  demand  for  Murdock's 

1  Watt  to  Boulton,  10th  March,  1786.— Boulton  MSS. 


presence  in  Cornwall,  that  he  could  not  be  spared  for 
another  day,  and  he  hurried  back  again  to  his  multi- 
farious duties  at  the  mines. 

The  cost  of  erecting  the  mill  proved  to  be  consider- 
ably in  excess  of  the  original  estimate,  and  Watt  early 
feared  that  it  would  turn  out  a  losing  concern.  He  had 
no  doubt  about  the  engines  or  the  machinery  being 
able  to  do  all  that  had  been  promised ;  but  he  feared 
that  the  absence  of  business  capacity  on  the  part  of  the 
managers  would  be  fatal  to  its  commercial  success.1  He 
was  especially  annoyed  at  finding  the  mill  made  a 
public  show  of,  and  that  it  was  constantly  crowded  with 
curious  and  frivolous  people,  whose  presence  seriously 
interfered  with  the  operations  of  the  workmen.  It 
reached  his  ears  that  the  managers  of  the  mill  even 
intended  to  hold  a  masquerade  in  it,  with  the  professed 
object  of  starting  the  concern  with  eclat !  Watt 
denounced  this  as  sheer  humbug.  "  What  have  Dukes, 
Lords,  and  Ladies,"  said  he,  "  to  do  with  masquerading 
in  a  flour- mi  11  ?  You  must  take  steps  to  curb  the 
vanity  of  -  — ,  else  it  will  ruin  him.  As  for  ourselves, 
considering  that  we  are  much  envied  at  any  rate, 
everything  which  contributes  to  render  us  conspicuous 
ought  to  be  avoided.  Let  us  content  ourselves  with 
doing!"2'  It  was  also  found  that  the  mill  was  becoming 
a  nest  for  schemers  and  speculators  occupied  in  devising 

The  Albion  Mill,"  wrote  Watt 
to  Boulton,  "  requires  your  close  at- 
tention and  exertions.  I  look  upon  it 

body  except  Mr.  W.  and  ourselves, 
and  that  if  we  go  on  as  expensively 
in  carrying  on  the  business  as  in  the 

as  a  weight  about  our  necks  that  will  i  erection,  it  is  impossible  but  that  we 
sink  us  to  the  bottom,  unless  people  should  be  immense  losers,  and  thus 
of  real  activity  and  knowledge  of  probably  our  least  loss  will  be  to 
business  are  found  to  manage  it.  I  stop  where  we  are.  As  to  our  repu- 
would  willingly  forfeit  a  considerable  tation  as  engineers,  I  have  no  doubt 
sum  to  be  clear  of  the  concern.  If  but  the  mill  will  perform  its  business, 
anybody  will  take  my  share  I  will  but  whether  with  the  quantity  of 
cheerfully  give  him  500?.  and  reckon  coals  and  labour  is  what  I  cannot  say." 
myself  well  quit.  My  reasons  are  — Watt  to  Boulton,  19th  March, 
that  none  of  the  parties  concerned  .  1786. 

are  men  of  business,  that  no  attention  !  2  Watt  to  Boulton,  17th  April, 
has  been  hitherto  paid  to  it  by  any-  1786. 


all  manner  of  new  projects.  Boulton  bestirred  himself 
to  put  matters  in  a  more  business-like  train.  Steps 
were  taken  to  close  the  mill  against  the  crowd  of  idle 
visitors ;  and  Boulton  shortly  after  reported  that  "  the 
manufacturing  of  Bubbles  and  new  schemes  is  removed 
from  the  Mill  to  a  private  Lodging." 

When  the  mill  was  at  length  set  to  work,  it  per- 
formed to  the  entire  satisfaction  of  its  projectors.  The 
engine,  on  one  occasion,  ground  as  much  as  3000 
bushels  of  wheat  in  twenty-four  hours.  The  usual  rate 
of  work  per  week  of  six  days  was  16,000  bushels  of 
wheat,  cleaned,  ground,  and  dressed  into  fine  flour 
(some  of  it  being  ground  two  or  three  times  over) ;  or 
sufficient,  according  to  Boulton's  estimate,  for  the  weekly 
consumption  of  150,000  people.  The  important  uses  of 
the  double  rotative  engine  were  thus  exhibited  in  the 
most  striking  manner ;  and  the  fame  of  the  Albion  Mill 
extended  far  and  wide.  It  so  far  answered  the  main 
purpose  which  Boulton  and  Watt  had  in  view  in  ori- 
ginally embarking  in  the  enterprise ;  but  it  must  be 
added  that  the  success  was  accomplished  at  a  very 
serious  sacrifice.  The  mill  never  succeeded  com- 
mercially. It  was  too  costly  in  its  construction  and  its 
management,  and  though  it  did  an  immense  business  it 
was  at  a  loss.  The  concern  was,  doubtless,  capable  of 
great  improvement,  and,  had  time  been  allowed,  it 
would  probably  have  come  round.  When  its  prospects 
seemed  to  be  brightening,1  it  was  set  on  fire  in  several 
places  by  incendiaries  on  the  night  of  the  3rd  of  March, 
1791.  The  villains  had  made  their  arrangements  with 
deliberation  and  skill.  They  fastened  the  main  cock  of 
the  water- cistern,  and  chose  the  hour  of  low  tide  for 
firing  the  building,  so  that  water  could  not  be  got  to 
play  upon  the  flames,  and  the  mill  was  burnt  to  the . 

1  Watt  wrote  Boulton  from  London, 
1st  October,  1789,— "I  called  on  Wyatt 
(the  architect)  last  night.  He  says 

the  mill  sold  above  4000/.  worth  of 
flour  last  week  and  is  doing  well." 


ground  in  a  few  hours.  A  reward  was  offered  for 
the  apprehension  of  the  criminals,  but  they  were  never 
discovered.  The  loss  sustained  by  the  Company  was 
about  10,000/.  Boulton  and  Watt  were  the  principal 
sufferers ;  the  former  holding  6000/.,  and  the  latter 
3000/.  interest  in  the  undertaking.1 

Meanwhile  orders  for  rotative  engines  were  coming 
in  apace  at  Soho, — engines  for  paper-mills  and  cotton- 
mills,  for  flour-mills  and  iron-mills,  and  for  sugar-mills  in 
America  and  the  West  Indies.  At  the  same  time  pump- 
ing-engines  were  in  hand  for  France,  Spain,  and  Italy. 
The  steam-engine  was  becoming  an  established  power, 
and  its  advantages  were  every  day  more  clearly  recog- 
nised. It  was  alike  docile,  regular,  economical,  and 
effective,  at  all  times  and  seasons,  by  night  as  by  day, 
in  summer  and  in  winter.  While  the  wind-mills  were 
stopped  by  calms  and  the  water-mills  by  frosts,  the 
steam-mill  worked  on  with  untiring  power.  "  There 
is  not  a  single  water-mill  now  at  work  in  Staffordshire," 
wrote  Boulton  to  Wyatt  in  December ;  "  they  are  all 
frozen  up,  and  were  it  not  for  Wilkinson's  steam-mill, 
the  poor  nailers  must  have  perished ;  but  his  mill  goes 
on  rolling  and  slitting  ten  tons  of  iron  a  day,  which  is 
carried  away  as  fast  as  it  can  be  bundled  up ;  and  thus 
the  employment  and  subsistence  of  these  poor  people 
are  secured." 

As  the  demand  for  rotative  engines  set  in,  Watt 
became  more  hopeful  as  to  the  prospects  of  this  branch 
of  manufacture.  He  even  began  to  fear  lest  the  firm 
should  be  unable  to  execute  the  orders,  so  fast  did 
they  follow  each  other.  "  I  have  no  doubt,"  he  wrote 
to  Boulton,  "  that  we  shall  soon  so  methodize  the  rota- 
tive engines  as  to  get  on  with  them  at  a  great  pace. 
Indeed,  that  is  already  in  some  degree  the  case.  But 
we  must  have  more  men,  and  these  we  can  only  have 

1  For  further  particulars  as  to  the  Albion  Mill,  see  Life  of  Rcnnie  in 
'  Lives  of  the  Engineers,'  ii.  137. 



CHAP.  XV11. 

by  the  slow  process  of  breeding  them."1  A  fortnight 
later  he  wrote,  "  Orders  for  rotative  engines  are  coming 
in  daily ;  but,  if  we  part  with  any  more  men  here,  we 
must  stop  taking  them  in."  Want  of  skilled  workmen 
continued  to  be  one  of  Watt's  greatest  difficulties.  When 
the  amount  of  work  to  be  executed  was  comparatively 
small,  and  sufficient  time  was  given  to  execute  it,  he 
was  able  to  turn  out  very  satisfactory  workmanship ; a 
but  when  the  orders  came  pouring  in,  new  hands  were 
necessarily  taken  on,  who  proved  a  constant  source  of 
anxiety  and  trouble.  Even  the  "  old  hands,"  when  sent 
to  a  distance  to  fit  up  engines,  being  left,  in  a  great 
measure,  to  themselves,  were  apt  to  become  careless  and 
ill-conditioned.  With  some,  self-conceit  was  the  stum- 
bling-block, with  others  temper,*  but  with  the  greater 
number,  drink.  "I  am  very  sorry  to  hear,"  wrote 
Watt  to  Boulton,  "that  Malcolm  Logan's  disease  in- 
creases. I  think  you  should  talk  to  him  roundly  upon 
it,  and  endeavour  to  procure  him  to  make  a  solemn 
resolution  or  oath  against  drinking  for  some  given 
term."  Another  foreman  sent  to  erect  an  engine  in 
Craven  was  afflicted  with  a  distemper  of  a  different 
sort.  He  was  found  to  have  put  the  engine  very  badly 
together,  and,  instead  of  attending  to  his  work,  had 
gone  a-hunting  in  a  pig-tail  wig !  "If  the  half  of  this 
be  true,"  wrote  Watt,  "  as  I  fear  it  is,  he  will  not  do  to 
be  sent  to  New  River  Head  [where  an  engine  was  about 
to  be  erected],  and  I  have  at  present  nobody  else  here 
....  I  suppose  I  shall  be  obliged  to  send  Joseph  over, 
for  we  must  not  have  a  bad  engine  if  it  can  be  helped. 
....  We  seem  to  be  getting  into  our  old  troubles 

1  Watt  to  Boulton,  23rd  September, 

2  He  spoke  of  Goodwyn's  Brewery 
engine,  finished  in  1784,  as  the  best 
that  Soho  had  up  to  that  time  turned 
out — it  "  performed  wonderful  well — 

not  the  smallest  leak  and  scarce  any 
noise.  .  .  .  The  working  gear  and 
joints  are  the  best  I  ever  saw." 

3  Watt  to  Boulton,  24th  February, 


William  Murdock  continued,  as  before,  an  admirable 
exception.  He  was  as  indefatigable  as  ever,  always 
ready  with  an  expedient  to  remedy  a  defect,  and  willing 
to  work  at  all  hours.  A  great  clamour  had  been  raised 
in  Cornwall  during  his  stay  in  London  while  setting 
the  Albion  Mill  to  rights,  as  there  was  no  other  person 
there  capable  of  supplying  his  place,  and  fulfilling  his 
numerous  and  responsible  duties.  Boulton  deplored 
that  more  men  such  as  Murdock  were  not  to  be  had ; 
— -"  He  is  now  flying  from  mine  to  mine,"  he  wrote, 
"  and  hath  so  many  calls  upon  him  that  he  is  inclined 
to  grow  peevish ;  and  if  we  take  him  from  North 
Downs,  Chace  water,  and  To  wan  (all  of  which  engines 
he  has  the  care  of),  they  will  run  into  disorder  and 
ruin ;  they  have  not  a  man  at  North  Downs  that  is 
better  than  a  stoker." 

Towards  the  end  of  1786  the  press  of  orders  increased 
at  Soho.  A  rotative  engine  of  forty-horse  power  was 
ordered  by  the  Plate  Glass  Company  to  grind  glass. 
A  powerful  pumping- engine  was  in  hand  for  the  Oxford 
Canal  Company.  Two  engines,  one  of  twenty  and  the 
other  of  ten  horse  power,  were  ordered  for  Scotch  dis- 
tilleries, and  another  order  was  shortly  expected  from 
the  same  quarter.  The  engine  supplied  for  the  Hull 
paper-mill  having  been  found  to  answer  admirably, 
more  orders  for  engines  for  the  same  purpose  were 
promised.  At  the  same  time  pumping-engines  were 
in  hand  for  the  great  French  waterworks  at  Marli. 
"  In  short,"  said  Watt,  "  I  foresee  I  shall  be  driven 
almost  mad  in  finding  men  for  the  engines  ordered  here 
and  coining  in."  Watt  was  necessarily  kept  very  full 
of  work  by  these  orders,  and  we  gather  from  his  letters 
that  he  was  equally  full  of  headaches.  He  continued  to 
give  his  personal  attention  to  the  preparation  of  the 
drawings  of  the  engines,  even  to  the  minutest  detail. 
On  an  engine  being  ordered  by  Mr.  Morris,  of  Bristol, 
for  the  purpose  of  driving  a  tilt-hammer,  Boulton  wrote 




to  him,  —  "Mr.  Watt  can  never  be  prevailed  upon  to 
begin  any  piece  of  machinery  until  the  plan  of  the 
whole  is  settled,  as  it  often  happens  that  a  change  in 
one  thing  puts  many  others  wrong.  However,  he  has 
now  settled  the  whole  of  yours,  but  waits  answers  to 
certain  questions  before  the  drawings  for  the  founder 
can  be  issued."1 

At  an  early  period  his  friend  Wedgwood  had  strongly 
urged  upon  Watt  that  he  should  work  less  with  his  own 
head  and  hands,  and  more  through  the  heads  and  hands 
of  others.2  Watt's  brain  was  too  active  for  his  body, 
and  needed  rest ;  but  rest  he  would  not  take,  and  per- 
sisted in  executing  all  the  plans  of  the  new  engines 
himself.  Thus  in  his  fragile,  nervous,  dyspeptic  state, 
every  increase  of  business  was  to  him  increase  of  brain- 
work  and  increase  of  pain  ;  until  it  seemed  as  if  not  only 
his  health,  but  the  very  foundations  of  his  reason  must 
give  way.  At  the  very  time  when  Soho  was  beginning 
to  bask  in  the  sunshine  of  prosperity,  and  the  financial 
troubles  of  the  firm  seemed  coming  to  an  end.  Watt 
wrote  the  following  profoundly  melancholy  letter  to 
a  friend  :— 

"  I  have  been  effete  and  listless,  neither  daring  to  face  business, 
nor  capable  of  it,  my  head  and  memory  failing  me  much  ;  my  stable 
of  hobby-horses  pulled  down,  and  the  horses  given  to  the  dogs  for 
carrion.  ...  I  have  had  serious  thoughts  of  laying  down  the 
burden  I  find  myself  unable  to  carry,  and  perhaps,  if  other 
sentiments  had  not  been  stronger,  should  have  thought  of  throwing 
off  the  mortal  coil;  but,  if  matters  do  not  grow  worse,  I  may 

1  Boulton  to  Morris,  2nd  November, 

2  "Your   mind,  my  friend,  is   too 
active,   too   powerful  for  your  body, 
and   harasses   it  beyond  its   bearing. 
If  this  was  the  case  with  any  other 
machine  under  your  direction,  except 
that  in  whose  regulation  your  friends 
take    so    much    interest,   you    would 
soon   find    out    a   remedy.     For   the 
present  permit  me  to  advise  a  more 
ample    use   of  tke   oil   of  delegation 

through  your  whole  machinery,  and  1 
am  persuaded  you  will  soon  find  some 
salutary  effects  from  this  application. 
Seriously,  I  shall  conclude  in  saying 
to  you  what  Dr.  Fothergill  desired 
me  to  say  to  Brindley — '  Spare  your 
machine  a  little,  or  like  others  under 
your  direction,  it  will  wear  out  the 
sooner  by  hard  and  constant  usage.'  " — 
Josiah  Wedgwood  to  Watt,  December 
LO,  1782. 


perhaps  stagger  on.  Solomon  said  that  in  the  increase  of  knowledge 
there  is  increase  of  sorrow;  if  he  had  substituted  business  for  know- 
ledge, it  would  have  Leen  perfectly  true." l 

As  might  be  expected,  from  the  large  number  of 
engines  sold  by  the  firm  to  this  time,  and  the  increasing 
amounts  yearly  payable  as  dues,  their  income  from  the 
business  was  becoming  considerable,  and  promised, 
before  many  years  had  passed,  to  be  very  large.  Down 
to  the  year  1785,  however,  the  outlay  upon  new  foun- 
dries, workshops,  and  machinery  had  been  so  great,  and 
the  large  increase  of  business  had  so  completely 
absorbed  the  capital  of  the  firm,  that  Watt  continued 
to  be  paid  his  household  expenses,  at  the  rate  of  so 
much  a  year,  out  of  the  hardware  business,  and  no  divi- 
sion of  profits  upon  the  engines  sold  and  at  work  had 
as  yet  been  made,  because  none  had  accrued.  After  the 
lapse  of  two  more  years,  matters  had  completely  changed ; 
and  after  long  waiting,  and  indescribable  distress  of  mind 
and  body,  Watt's  invention  at  length  began  to  be  pro- 
ductive to  him.  During  the  early  part  of  his  career, 
though  his  income  had  been  small,  his  wants  were 
few,  and  easily  satisfied.  Though  Boulton  had  liberally 
provided  for  these  from  the  time  of  his  settling  at 
Birmingham,  Watt  continued  to  feel  oppressed  by  the 
thought  of  the  debt  to  the  bankers  for  which  he  and 
his  partner  were  jointly  liable.  In  his  own  little  busi- 
ness he  had  been  accustomed  to  deal  with  such  small 
sums,  that  the  idea  of  being  responsible  for  the  repay- 
ment of  thousands  of  pounds  appalled  and  unnerved  him  ; 
and  he  had  no  peace  of  mind  until  the  debt  was  dis- 
charged. Now  at  last  he  was  free,  and  in  the  happy 
position  of  having  a  balance  at  his  bankers.  On  the 
7th  of  December,  1787,  Boulton  wrote  to  Matthews, 
the  London  agent, — "  As  Mr.  Watt  is  now  at  Mr.  Mac- 

Watt  to  his  brother-in-law,  Gilbert  Hamilton,  Glasgow,  June  18,  1786. 


gregor's,  in  Glasgow,  I  wish  you  would  write  him  a 
line  to  say  that  you  have  transferred  4000/.  to  his 
own  account,  that  you  have  paid  for  him  another 
1000^.  to  the  Albion  Mill,  and  that  about  Christmas 
you  suppose  you  shall  transfer  200 7/.  more  to  him,  to 

But  while  Watt's  argosies  were  coming  into  port 
richly  laden,  Boulton's  were  still  at  sea.  Though  the 
latter  had  risked,  and  often  lost,  capital  in  his  various 
undertakings,  he  continued  as  venturesome,  as  enter- 
prising as  ever.  When  any  project  was  started  calcu- 
lated to  bring  the  steam-engine  into  notice,  he  was 
immediately  ready  with  his  subscription.  Thus  he 
embarked  6000/.  in  the  Albion  Mill,  a  luckless  adven- 
ture in  itself,  though  productive  in  other  respects.  But 
he  sadly  missed  the  money,  and  as  late  as  1789,  feelingly 
said  to  Matthews,  "  Oh  that  I  had  my  Albion  Mill 
capital  back  again  ! "  When  any  mining  adventure 
was  started  in  Cornwall  for  which  a  new  engine  was 
wanted,  Boulton  would  write,  "If  you  want  a  stop- 
gap, put  me  down  as  an  adventurer ;"  and  too  often 
the  adventure  proved  a  failure.  Then,  to  encourage 
the  Cornish  Copper  Mining  Company,  he  bought  large 
quantities  of  copper,  and  had  it  sent  down  to  Bir- 
mingham, where  it  lay  long  on  his  hands  without  a 
purchaser.  At  the  same  time  we  find  him  expending 
5000/.  in  building  and  rebuilding  two  mills  and  a  ware- 
house at  Soho,  and  an  equal  amount  in  "  preparing  for 
the  coinage."  These  large  investments  had  the  effect  of 
crippling  his  resources  for  years  to  come ;  and  when  the 
commercial  convulsion  of  1788  occurred,  he  felt  himself 
in  a  state  of  the  most  distressing  embarrassment.  The 
circumstances  of  the  partners  being  thus  in  a  measure 
reversed,  Boulton  fell  back  upon  Watt  for  temporary 
help ;  but,  more  cautious  than  his  partner,  Watt  had 
already  invested  his  profits  elsewhere,  and  could  riot 




help  him.1  He  had  got  together  his  store  of  gains  with 
too  much  difficulty  to  part  with  them  easily ;  and  he  was 
unwilling  to  let  them  float  away  in  what  he  regarded  as 
an  unknown  sea  of  speculation. 

To  add  to  his  distresses,  Boulton's  health  began  to  fail 
him.  To  have  seen  the  two  men,  no  one  would  have 
thought  that  Boulton  would  have  been  the  first  to  break 
down ;  but  so  it  was.  Though  Watt's  sufferings  from 
headaches,  and  afterwards  from  asthma,  seem  to  have 
been  almost  continuous,  he  struggled  on,  and  even  grew 
in  strength  and  spirits.  His  fragile  frame  bent  before 
disease,  as  the  reed  bends  to  the  storm,  and  rose  erect 
again ;  but  it  was  different  with  Boulton.  He  had 
toiled  too  unsparingly,  and  was  now  feeling  the  effects. 
The  strain  upon  him  had  throughout  been  greater  than 
upon  Watt,  whose  headache  had  acted  as  a  sort  of  safety- 
valve  by  disabling  him  from  pursuing  further  study 
until  it  had  gone  off.  Boulton,  on  the  other  hand,  was 
kept  in  a  state  of  constant  anxiety  by  business  that 
could  not  possibly  be  postponed.  He  had  to  provide  the 
means  for  carrying  on  his  many  businesses,  to  sustain 
his  partner  against  despondency,  and  to  keep  the  whole 
organisation  of  the  firm  in  working  order.  While 
engaged  in  bearing  his  gigantic  burden,  disease  came 
upon  him.  In  1784  we  find  him  writing  to  his  wine- 
merchant,  with  a  cheque  in  payment  of  his  account,— 
"  We  have  had  a  visit  from  a  new  acquaintance — the 
gout."  The  visitor  returned,  and  four  years  later  we 
find  him  complaining  of  violent  pain  from  gravel  and 
stone,  to  which  he  continued  a  martyr  to  the  close  of  his 
life.  "  I  am  very  unwell  indeed,"  he  wrote  to  Matthews 

1  "  Mr.  Watt  hath  lately  remitted 
all  his  money  to  Scotland,  and  I  have 
lately  purchased  a  considerable  quan- 
tity of  copper  at  the  request  of  Mr. 
Williams.  .  .  .  Besides  which  I  have 
more  than  45  tons  of  copper  by 
me,  20  of  which  was  bought  of  the 
Cornish  Metal  Company,  and  20  of  the 

Duke's  at  707.,  and  not  an  ounce  of 
either  yet  used.  In  short,  I  shall  be 
in  a  very  few  weeks  in  great  want  of 
money,  and  it  is  now  impossible  to 
borrow  in  London  or  this  neighbour- 
hood as  all  confidence  is  fled." — Boulton 
to  Wilson,  4th  May,  1788. 



CHAP.  XV  J  I. 

in  London  ;  "  I  can  get  no  sleep ;  and  yet  I  have  been 
obliged  to  wear  a  cheerful  face,  and  attend  all  this  week 
on  M.  1'Abbe  de  Callone  and  his  friend  Brunelle."  1  He 
felt  as  if  life  was  drawing  to  an  end  with  him  :  he  asked 
his  friend  for  a  continuance  of  his  sympathy,  and  pro- 
mised to  exert  himself,  "  otherwise,"  said  he,  "  I  will  lay 
me  down  and  die."  He  was  distressed,  above  all  things, 
at  the  prospect  of  leaving  his  family  unprovided  for, 
notwithstanding  all  the  labours,  anxieties,  and  risks 
he  had  undergone.  "  When  I  reflect,"  he  said,  "  that  I 
have  given  up  my  extra  advantage  of  one-third  on  all 
the  engines  we  are  now  making  and  are  likely  to  make,2 
—when  I  think  of  my  children,  now  upon  the  verge  of 
that  time  of  life  when  they  are  naturally  entitled  to 
expect  a  portion  of  their  patrimony, — when  I  feel  the 
consciousness  of  being  unable  to  restore  to  them  the  pro- 
perty which  their  mother  intrusted  to  me, — when  I  see 
all  whom  I  am  connected  with  growing  rich,  whilst  I 
am  groaning  under  a  load  of  debt  and  annuities  that 
would  sink  me  into  the  grave  if  my  anxieties  for  my 
children  did  not  sustain  me, — I  say,  when  I  consider  all 
these  things,  it  behoves  me  to  struggle  through  the  small 
remaining  fragment  of  my  life  (being  now  in  my  60th 
year),  and  do  my  children  all  the  justice  in  my  power  by 
wiping  away  as  many  of  my  incumbrances  as  possible." 

It  was  seldom  that  Boulton  wrote  in  so  desponding  a 
strain  as  this ;  but  it  was  his  "  darkest  hour,"  and 
happily  it  proved  the  one  "nearest  the  dawn."  Yet, 
we  shortly  after  find  him  applying  his  energies,  appa- 
rently unabated,  in  an  entirely  new  direction — that  of 
coining  money — which,  next  to  the  introduction  of  the 
steam-engine,  was  the  greatest  enterprise  of  his  life. 

1  Boulton  to  Matthews,  22nd  De- 
cember, 1788. 

2  Boulton  acted  with  his  usual  open- 
handed  generosity  in  his  partnership 
arrangements  with  Watt.     Although 
the   original    bargain    between   them 
provided   that   Boulton   was   to    take 

two-thirds,  and  Watt  one-third  profits, 
Boulton  providing  the  requisite  capital 
and  being  at  the  risk  and  expense  of 
all  experiments,  he  subsequently,  at 
Watt's  request,  agreed  to  the  profits 
being  equally  divided  between  them. 




As  men  are  known  by  the  friends  they  make  and  the 
books  they  read,  as  well  as  by  the  recreations  and  pur- 
suits of  their  leisure  hours,  it  will  help  us  to  an  appre- 
ciation of  the  characters  of  Boulton  and  Watt  if  we 
glance  briefly  at  the  social  life  of  Soho  during  the 
period  we  have  thus  rapidly  passed  under  review. 

Boulton  was  of  a  thoroughly  social  disposition,  and 
made  friends  wherever  he  went.  He  was  a  favourite 
alike  with  children  and  philosophers,  with  princely 
visitors  at  Soho,  and  with  quiet  Quakers  in  Cornwall. 
When  at  home,  he  took  pleasure  in  gathering  about 
him  persons  of  kindred  tastes  and  pursuits,  in  order  at 
the  same  time  to  enjoy  their  friendship,  and  to  cultivate 
his  nature  by  intercourse  with  minds  of  the  highest  cul- 
ture. Hence  the  friendships  which  he  early  formed  for 
Benjamin  Franklin,  Dr.  Small,  Dr.  Darwin,  Josiah 
Wedgwood,  Thomas  Day,  Lovell  Edge  worth,  and  others 
equally  eminent ;  out  of  which  eventually  grew  the 
famous  Lunar  Society. 

Towards  the  close  of  last  century,  there  were  many 
little  clubs  or  coteries  of  scientific  and  literary  men 
established  in  the  provinces,  the  like  of  which  do  not 
now  exist, — probably  because  the  communication  with 
the  metropolis  is  so  much  easier,  and  because  London 
more  than  ever  absorbs  the  active  intelligence  of  Eng- 
land, especially  in  the  higher  departments  of  science, 
art,  and  literature.  The  provincial  coteries  of  which 
we  speak,  were  usually  centres  of  the  best  and  most 
intelligent  society  of  their  neighbourhoods,  and  were 


for  the  most  part  distinguished  by  an  active  and  liberal 
spirit  of  inquiry.  Leading  minds  attracted  others  of 
like  tastes  and  pursuits,  and  social  circles  were  formed 
which  proved  in  many  instances  the  source  of  great 
intellectual  activity  as  well  as  enjoyment.  At  Liver- 
pool, Roscoe  and  Currie  were  the  centres  of  one  such 
group ;  at  Warrington,  Aikin,  Enfield,  and  Priestley,  of 
another ;  at  Bristol,  Dr.  Beddoes  and  Humphry  Davy 
of  a  third ;  and  at  Norwich,  the  Taylors  and  Martineaus 
of  a  fourth.  But  perhaps  the  most  distinguished  of 
these  provincial  societies  was  that  at  Birmingham,  of 
which  Boulton  and  Watt  were  among  the  most  pro- 
minent members. 

From  an  early  period,  the  idea  of  a  society,  meeting 
by  turns  at  each  other's  houses,  seems  to  have  been 
entertained  by  Boulton.  It  was  probably  suggested  in 
the  first  place  by  his  friend  Dr.  Small.  The  object  of 
the  proposed  Society  was  to  be  at  the  same  time  friendly 
and  scientific.  The  members  were  to  exchange  views 
with  each  other  on  topics  relating  to  literature,  art,  and 
science ;  each  contributing  his  quota  of  entertainment 
and  instruction.  The  meetings  were  appointed  to  be 
held  monthly  at  the  full  of  the  moon,  to  enable  distant 
members  to  drive  home  by  moonlight ;  and  this  was 
the  more  necessary  as  some  of  them — such  as  Darwin 
and  Wedgwood — lived  at  a  considerable  distance  from 

When  Watt  visited  Soho  in  1768,  on  his  way  home 
from  London  to  Glasgow,  some  of  the  members  of  the 
Society —  Dr.  Small,  Dr.  Darwin,  and  Mr.  Keir — were 
invited  to  meet  him  at  FMtel  de  Tamitie  sur  Handsworth 
Heath,  as  Boulton  styled  his  hospitable  mansion.  The 
Society  must,  however,  have  been  in  a  somewhat  unde- 
fined state  at  even  a  considerably  later  period,  as  we 
find  Boulton  writing  to  Watt  in  1770,  after  the  latter 
had  settled  in  Birmingham,  "  Pray  remember  that  the 
celebration  of  the  third  full  moon  will  be  on  Saturday, 


March  3rd.  Darwin  and  Keir  will  both  be  at  Soho. 
I  then  propose  to  submit  many  motions  to  the  members 
respecting  new  laws  and  regulations,  such  as  will  tend 
to  prevent  the  decline  of  a  Society  which  I  hope  will 
be  lasting."  The  principal  members,  besides  those 
above  named,  were  Thomas  Day,  R.  Lovell  Edgeworth, 
Samuel  Gralton,  Dr.  "Withering,  Baskerville  the  printer, 
Dr.  Priestley,  and  James  Watt.  Each  member  was  at 
liberty  to  bring  a  friend  with  him,  and  thus  many 
visitors  of  distinction  were  present  at  the  meetings  of 
the  Society,  amongst  whom  may  be  named  Mr.  Smeaton, 
Dr.  Parr,  Sir  Joseph  Banks,  Sir  William  Herschel, 
Dr.  Solander,  De  Luc,  Dr.  Camper,  and  occasional 
scientific  foreigners. 

Dr.  Darwin  was  regarded  as  the  patriarch  of  the 
Society.  His  fame  as  a  doctor,  philosopher,  and  poet, 
was  great  throughout  the  Midland  Counties.  He  was 
extremely  speculative  in  all  directions,  even  in  such  mat- 
ters as  driving  wheel-carriages  by  steam, — also  a  favourite 
subject  of  speculation  with  Mr.  Edgeworth.1  Dr.  Dar- 
win's time,  however,  was  so  much  engrossed  by  his 
practice  at  Lichfield,  that  he  was  not  very  regular  in 
his  attendance  at  the  meetings,  but  would  excuse  him- 
self for  his  absence  by  such  a  letter  as  the  following  :— 

"  DEAR  BOULTON, — I  am  sorry  the  infernal  divinities  who 
visit  mankind  with  diseases,  and  are  therefore  at  perpetual 
war  with  Doctors,  should  have  prevented  my  seeing  all  your  great 
men  at  Soho  to-day.  Lord!  what  inventions,  what  wit,  what 
rhetoric,  metaphysical,  mechanical,  and  pyrotechnical,  will  be  on 
the  wing,  bandied  like  a  shuttlecock  from  one  to  another  of  your 
troop  of  philosophers !  while  poor  I,  I  by  myself  I,  imprison'd  in  a 
postchaise,  am  joggled,  and  jostled,  and  bump'd,  and  bruised  along 
the  King's  high-road,  to  make  war  upon  a  stomach-ache  or  a 

1  As  early  as  August,  1768,  we 
find  Dr.  Small  in  one  of  his  letters 
describing  Edgeworth  to  Watt  as  "  a 
gentleman  of  fortune,  young,  mechani- 
cal, and  indefatigable,  who  has  taken 
a  resolution  to  move  land  and  water 

by   steam,   and    has    made 

considerable  progress  in  the  short 
space  of  time  that  he  has  devoted  to 
the  study." 

2  Dr.  Darwin  to  Boulton,  April  5, 
1778.     When  the  Doctor  removed  to 

2    B 




While  Dr.  Darwin  and  Mr.  Edgeworth  were  amongst 
the  oldest  members  of  the  Society,  Dr.  Priestley,  the 
discoverer  of  oxygen  and  other  gases,  was  one  of 
the  most  recent.  We  find  Boulton  corresponding 
with  him  in  1775,1  principally  on  chemical  subjects, 
and  supplying  him  with  parcels  of  fluor  spar  for  pur- 
poses of  experiment.  Five  years  later,  in  1780,  he  was 
appointed  minister  of  the  Presbyterian  Congregation 
assembling  in  the  New  Meeting-house,  Birmingham ; 
and  from  that  time  forward  he  was  one  of  the  most 
active  members  of  the  Lunar  Society,  by  whom  he  was 
regarded  as  a  great  acquisition. 

Dr.  Priestley  was  a  man  of  extraordinary  gifts  and 
accomplishments.  He  had  mastered  many  languages 
before  he  was  twenty  years  old.  He  was  well  versed 
in  mechanical  philosophy  and  metaphysics,  a  skilled 
dialectician,  and  the  most  expert  chemist  of  his  time. 
Possessed  by  an  irrepressible  activity  and  untiring  per- 
severance, he  became  an  enthusiast  on  whatever  subject 
he  undertook,  whether  it  was  an  inquiry  into  history, 

Derby  in  1782,  he  wrote, — "  [  am 
here  cut  off  from  the  milk  of  science, 
which  flows  in  such  redundant  streams 
from  your  learned  Lunatics,  and  which, 
I  can  assure  you,  is  a  very  great  regret 
to  me."  In  another  letter  he  said, — 
"  I  hope  philosophy  and  fire-engines 
continue  to  go  on  well.  You  heard 
we  sent  your  Society  an  air-balloon, 
which  was  calculated  to  have  fallen  in 
your  garden  at  Soho  ;  but  the  wicked 
wind  carried  it  to  Sir  Edward  Little- 
ton's. Pray  give  my  compliments  to 
your  learned  Society."  In  another 
letter  he  wrote, — "  I  hope  Behemoth 
has  strength  in  his  loins.  Belial  and 
Ashtaroth  are  two  other  devils  of  conse- 
quence, and  good  names  for  engines  of 
Fire."  When  he  heard  of  the  Albion 
Mill  being  burnt  down,  the  Doctor 
wrote, — "The  conflagration  of  the 
Albion  Mill  grieved  me  sincerely,  both 
as  it  was  a  grand  and  success  fu]  effort 
of  human  art,  and  also  because  I  fear 
you  were  a  considerable  sufferer  by  it. 

I  well  remember  poor  old  Mr.  Seward 
comparing  the  Immortality  of  the 
Soul  (in  a  devout  sermon)  to  a  fire- 
engine.  He  might  now  have  made  it 
|  a  type  of  the  mortality  of  this  world, 
and  the  conflagration  of  all  things." 

1  In  a  letter  from  Priestley  to 
Boulton,  dated  London,  6th  November, 
1775,  he  wrote, — "I  shall  not  quarrel 
with  you  on  account  of  our  different 
sentiments  in  politics.  When  I  tell 
you  what  is  fact,  that  the  Americans 
have  constructed  a  cannon  on  a  new 
principle,  by  which  they  can  hit  a 
mark  at  a  distance  of  a  mile,  you  will 
say  their  ingenuity  has  come  in  aid  of 
their  cowardice!  I  would  tell  you 
the  principle  of  it,  but  that  I  am 
afraid  it  would  set  your  superior 
ingenuity  to  improve  upon  it  for  the 
use  of  their  enemies."  From  Boulton's 
memoranda-books  we  find  that  the 
subject  of  improved  artillery  had 
occupied  his  attention  some  ten  years 




theology,  or  science.  He  himself  likened  experimental 
philosophy  to  hunting,  and  in  his  case  it  was  the  pursuit 
of  facts  that  mainly  concerned  him.  He  was  cheerful, 


hopeful,  and  buoyant ;  possessed  of  a  most  juvenile  tem- 
perament ;  happiest  when  fullest  of  work ;  ranging  from 
subject  to  subject  with  extraordinary  versatility ;  laying 
aside  metaphysics  to  pursue  experiments  in  electricity, 
next  taking  up  history  and  politics,  and  resting  from 
these  to  experiment  on  gases, — all  the  while  carrying  on 
some  public  controversy  on  a  disputed  point  in  religion 
or  politics.  For  it  is  a  curious  fact;  that  gentle,  affec- 
tionate, and  amiable  though  Priestley  was,  —  devout 
in  temperament,  and  single-minded  in  the  pursuit  of 

2  B  2 




truth,1 — he  was  almost  constantly  involved  in  paper 
wars.  He  described  himself,  and  truly,  as  "one  of  the 
happiest  of  men  ; "  yet  wherever  he  went,  in  England  or 
America,  he  stirred  up  controversy  and  exasperated 
opponents,  seeming  to  be  the  very  Ishmael  of  polemics. 

At  the  time  when  he  settled  at  Birmingham, 
Priestley  was  actively  engaged  in  prosecuting  inquiries 
into  the  constitution  of  bodies.  He  had  been  occupied 
for  several  years  before  in  making  investigations  as 
to  the  gases.  The  discovery  of  carbonic  acid  gas 
by  Dr.  Black  of  Edinburgh,  had  attracted  his  atten- 
tion ;  and,  living  conveniently  near  to  a  brewery  at 
Leeds,  where  he  then  was,  he  proceeded  to  make  expe- 
riments on  the  fixed  air  or  carbonic  acid  gas  evolved 
during  fermentation.  From  these  he  went  on  to  other 
experiments,  making  use  of  the  rudest  apparatus,— 
phials,  tobacco-pipes,  kitchen  utensils,  a  few  glass  tubes, 
and  an  old  gun-barrel.  The  pursuit  was  a  source  of 
constant  pleasure  to  him.  He  had  entered  upon  an 
almost  unexplored  field  of  science.  Then  was  the  child- 
hood of  chemistry,  and  he  gazed  with  large-eyed  wonder 
at  the  marvels  which  his  investigations  brought  to  light. 
He  had  no  teacher  to  guide  him — nothing  but  experi- 
ment ;  and  he  experimented  constantly,  carefully  noting 
the  results.  Observation  of  facts  was  his  great  object ; 
the  interpretation  of  the  facts  he  left  to  others.  Such 
was  Priestley,  and  such  were  his  pursuits,  when  he 
settled  at  Birmingham  in  1780. 

1  Mrs.  Schimmelpenninck,  who  had 
no  sympathy  for  Dr.  Priestley's  re- 
ligious views,  nevertheless  bears 
eloquent  testimony  to  the  beauty  of 
his  character-.  She  speaks  of  him  as 
"  a  man  of  admirable  simplicity, 
gentleness,  and  kindness  of  heart, 
united  with  great  acuteness  of  in- 
tellect. I  can  never  forget,"  she  says, 
"  the  impression  produced  on  me  by 
the  serene  expression  of  his  counte- 
nance. He,  indeed,  seemed  ever 
present  with  God  by  recollection,  and 
with  man  bv  cheerfulness.  ...  A 

sharp  and  acute  intellectual  perception, 
often  a  pointed,  perhaps  a  playful 
expression,  was  combined  in  him  with 
a  most  loving  heart.  .  .  Dr.  Priestley 
always  spent  part  of  every  day  in 
devotional  exercises  and  contempla- 
tion;  and  unless  the  railroad  has 
spoilt  it,  there  yet  remains  at  Dawlish 
a  deep  and  beautiful  cavern,  since 
known  by  the  name  of  "  Dr.  Priestley's 
cavern,"  where  he  was  wont  to  pass 
an  hour  every  day  in  solitary  retire- 
ment.— '  Life  of  Mary  Ann  Schimmel- 




There  can  be  little  doubt  that  his  enthusiasm  as  an 
experimenter  in  chemistry  exercised  a  powerful  influence 
on  the  minds  of  both  Boulton  and  Watt,  who,  though 
both  full  of  work,  anxiety,  and  financial  troubles, 
were  nevertheless  found  taking  an  active  interest  from 
this  time  forward  in  the  progress  of  chemical  science. 
Chemistry  became  the  chief  subject  of  discussion  at 
the  meetings  of  the  Lunar  Society,  and  chemical  ex- 
periments the  principal  recreation  of  their  leisure 

"  I  dined  yesterday  at  the  Lunar  Society  (Keir's  house),"  wrote 
Boulton  to  Watt ;  "  there  was  Blair,  Priestley,  Withering,  Galton, 
and  an  American  '  rebel,'  Mr.  Collins.  Nothing  new  except  that 
some  of  my  white  Spathos  Iron  ore  was  found  to  contain  more  air 
than  any  ore  Priestley  had  ever  tried,  and,  what  is  singular,  it 
contains  no  common  air,  but  is  part  fixable  and  part  inflam- 
mable." l 

To  Henderson,  in  Cornwall,  Boulton  wrote,  two 
months  later,— 

"  Chemistry  has  for  some  time  been  my  hobby-horse,  but  I  am 
prevented  from  riding  it  by  cursed  business,  except  now  and  then 
of  a  Sunday.  However,  I  have  made  great  progress  since  I  saw  you, 
and  am  almost  an  adept  in  metallurgical  moist  chemistry.  I  have 
got  all  that  part  of  Bergmann's  last  volume  translated,  and 
have  learnt  from  it  many  new  facts.  I  have  annihilated  Wm. 
Murdock's  bedchamber,  having  taken  away  the  floor,  and  made 
the  chicken  kitchen  into  one  high  room  covered  over  with  shelves, 
and  these  I  have  filled  with  chemical  apparatus.  I  have  likewise 
set  up  a  Priestleyan  water-tub,  and  likewise  a  mercurial  tub  for 
experiments  on  gases,  vapours,  &c.,  and  next  year  I  shall  annex 
to  these  a  laboratory  with  furnaces  of  all  sorts,  and  all  other  utensils 
for  dry  chemistry."  2 

The  "  Priestleyan  water-tub "  and  "  mercurial  tub," 
here  alluded  to,  were  invented  by  Priestley  in  the  course 
of  his  investigations,  for  the  purpose  of  collecting  and 
handling  gases ;  and  the  pneumatic  trough,  with  glass 

1  Boulton  to  Watt,  3rd  July,  1781. 
Dr.  Black  denominated  carbonic  acid 
,u'us  "  fixed  air  "  because  of  his  having 
tirst  discovered  it  in  chalk,  marble, 
&f.,  wherein  it  was  fixed  until  the 

furnace   or   other  means  extracted  it 
from  its  fixture. 

2  Boulton  to  Henderson,  Oth  Sep- 
tember, 1781. 


retorts  and  receivers,  shortly  became  part  of  the  furni- 
ture of  every  chemical  laboratory. 

Josiah  Wedgwood  was  another  member  of  the  Lunar 
Society  who  was  infected  by  Dr.  Priestley's  enthusiasm 
for  chemistry ;  and,  knowing  that  the  Doctor's  income 
from  his  congregation  was  small,  he  and  Boulton  took 
private  counsel  together  as  to  the  best  means  of  providing 
him  with  funds  so  as  to  place  him  in  a  position  of  com- 
parative ease,  and  enable  him  freely  to  pursue  his  in- 
vestigations. The  correspondence  which  took  place  on 
the  subject  is  creditable  to  all  parties  concerned ;  and 
the  more  so  to  Boulton,  as  he  was  embarrassed  at  the 
time  by  financial  difficulties  of  the  most  distressing  kind, 
as  has  been  already  explained  in  a  preceding  chapter. 
Wedgwood  had  undertaken  to  sound  Dr.  Priestley,  and 
he  thus  communicated  the  result  to  Boulton:— 

"  The  Doctor  says  lie  never  did  intend  or  think  of  making  any 
pecuniary  advantage  from  any  of  his  experiments,  but  gave  them  to 
the  public  with  their  results,  just  as  they  happened,  and  so  he  should 
continue  to  do,  without  ever  attempting  to  make  any  private 
emolument  from  them  to  himself. 

"  I  mentioned  this  business  to  our  good  friend,  Dr.  Darwin, 
who  agrees  with  us  in  sentiment,  that  it  would  be  a  pity  that 
Dr.  Priestley  should  have  any  cares  or  cramps  to  interrupt  him  in 
the  fine  vein  of  experiments  he  is  in  the  midst  of,  and  is  willing 
to  devote  his  time  to  the  pursuit  of,  for  the  public  good.  The 
Doctor  will  subscribe,  and  has  thought  of  some  friends  who,  he  is 
persuaded,  will  gladly  do  the  same.  .  .  . 

"  You  will  see  by  the  enclosed  list  that  one  cannot  decently 
exceed  ten  guineas  unless  it  be  under  the  cover  of  a  friend's  name, 
which  method  I  shall  take  if  I  think  it  necessary  to  write  more 
than  ten ;  but  that  is  the  subscription  I  shall  begin  with,  and  for 
three  years  certain. 

"  Dr.  Darwin  will  be  very  cautious  who  he  mentions  this  affair 
to,  for  reasons  of  delicacy  which  will  have  equal  weight  with  us  all. 
I  mentioned  your  generous  intention  to  Dr.  P.,  and  that  we  thought 
of  201.  each ;  but  that,  you  will  perceive,  cannot  be,  and  the  Doctor 
says  much  less  will  suffice,  as  he  can  go  on  very  well  with  100Z.  per 

1  Wedgwood  to  Boulton,  Etmria,  10th  March,  1781. 


Boulton  wrote  Wedgwood  in  reply,  requesting  that 
the  money  subscribed  should  be  collected  and  paid  to 
Dr.  Priestley  in  such  a  way  as  not  to  wound  his  sensi- 
tive feelings.  He  suggested  that  in  order  to  avoid  this, 
it  might  be  better  if,  instead  of  an  annual  subscription,  a 
dozen  gentlemen  were  found  willing  to  give  a  hundred 
pounds  each  for  the  purpose  of  buying  an  annuity,  or 
investing  the  amount  in  stock  for  the  Doctor's  benefit. 

"  I  have  never  yet  spoken  to  him  on  the  subject,"  he  added ;  "  I 
wish  to  avoid  it,  and  so  doth  my  neighbour  Galton.  Therefore 
I  beg  you  will  manage  the  affair  so  that  we  may  contribute  our 
mites  to  so  laudable  a  plan,  without  the  Doctor  knowing  anything  of 
the  matter,  and  favour  us  with  a  line  on  the  subject  at  your  leisure." l 

In  a  subsequent  part  of  the  same  letter  he  indicated 
the  subject  of  Priestley's  experiments  at  the  time  :— 

"  We  have  long  talked,"  said  he,  "  of  Phlogiston  without  knowing 
what  we  talked  about ;  but  now  that  Dr.  Priestley  hath  brought  the 
matter  to  light,  we  can  pour  that  element  out  of  one  vessel  into 
another,  can  take  it  out  of  one  metal  and  put  it  into  another, 
can  tell  how  much  of  it,  by  accurate  measurement,  is  necessary 
to  reduce  a  calx  to  a  metal,  which  is  easily  done,  and  without 
putting  that  calx  into  contact  with  any  visible  thing.  In  short, 
this  goddess  of  levity  can  be  measured  and  weighed  like  other  matter. 
For  the  rest,  I  refer  you  to  the  Doctor  himself." 

The  discussions  at  the  Lunar  Society  were  not,  how- 
ever, exclusively  chemical,  but  were  varied  according  to 
the  visitors  who  from  time  to  time  honoured  the 
members  with  their  presence.  Thus,  in  the  autumn  of 
1782,  the  venerable  Smeaton,  having  occasion  to  be  in 
Birmingham  upon  canal  business,  was  invited  to  attend 
a  meeting  of  the  Society  held  in  Watt's  house  at  Harper's 
Hill.  Watt  thus  described  the  evening's  proceedings  in 
a  letter  to  Boulton,  then  in  London : — 

"He  [Smeaton]  grows  old,  and  is  rather  more  talkative  than 
he  was,  but  retains  in  perfection  his  perspicuity  of  expression 
and  good  sense.  He  came  to  the  Philosophers'  Meeting  at  my 

1  Boulton  to  Wedgwood,  30th  March,  1781. 




house  on  Monday,  and  we  were  receiving  an  account  of  his  experi- 
ments on  rotatives  and  some  new  ones  he  has  made,  when  unluckily 
his  facts  did  not  agree  with  Dr.  Moyes  the  blind  philosopher's 
theories,  which  made  Moyes  contradict  Smeaton,  and  brought 
on  a  dispute  which  lost  us  the  information  we  hoped  for,  and 
took  away  all  the  pleasure  of  the  meeting,  as  it  lasted  two  hours 
without  coming  half  an  inch  nearer  to  the  point." l 

A  few  days  later,  we  find  De  Luc  paying  his  first 
visit  to  Watt  at  Birmingham,  accompanied  by  Baron 
Keden,  who  desired  to  inspect  the  Soho  works.  "  M. 
De  Luc,"  wrote  Watt,  "  is  a  modest  ingenious  man. 
On  Wednesday,  Wilkinson,  Keden,  and  he  sent  for  me 
to  '  The  Castle '  after  dinner,  and  kept  me  to  supper. 
On  the  following  day  De  Luc  came  to  breakfast,  and 
spent  the  whole  forenoon,  insensing 2  himself  with  steam 
and  steam-engines.  He  is  making  a  book,  and  will 
mention  us  in  it.  Dr.  Priestley  came  also  to  dinner, 
and  we  were  all  good  company  till  six  o'clock,  when 
Wilkinson  set  off  for  Broseley,  and  they  for  London." 

Meanwhile  Priestley  continued  to  pursue  his  investi- 
gations with  indefatigable  zeal,  discovering  one  gas 
after  another,3  and  immediately  proclaiming  the  facts 
which  he  brought  to  light,  so  that  other  minds  might  be 
employed  on  them  besides  his  own.  He  kept  nothing 
secret.  Perhaps,  indeed,  he  was  too  hasty  in  publishing 
the  results  of  experiments  still  unfinished,  as  it  occasion- 
ally led  him  into  contradictions  which  a  more  cautious 
method  of  procedure  would  have  enabled  him  to  avoid. 
But  he  was  thoroughly  honest,  ingenuous,  and  single- 
minded  in  all  his  proceedings,  entertaining  the  convic- 
tion that  in  the  end  truth  would  vindicate  itself,  and 

1  Watt  to  Boulton,  26th  October, 

2  A  common  word  in  the  north, — 
meaning  literally  putting  sense  into  one. 

3  He  discovered,  in  the  course  of 
his  inquiries  at  different  periods,  no 
fewer  than  nine  new  gases, — oxygen, 
nitrogen  (a  discovery  also  claimed  by 

Cavendish  and  Kutherford),  nitric 
oxide,  nitrous  oxide,  sulphurous  acid, 
muriatic  acid  (chlorine),  volatile  am- 
monia, fluo-silicic  acid,  and  carbonic 
oxide, — "  a  tribute  to  science,"  as  is 
truly  observed  by  Dr.  Henry,  "  greatly 
exceeding  in  richness  and  extent  that 
of  any  contemporary." 




that  all  that  was  necessary  was  to  inquire  ardently,  to 
experiment  incessantly,  and  to  publish  freely. 

One  of  the  most  interesting  speculations  to  which 
Priestley's  experiments  gave  rise  was  the  composition  of 
water.  The  merit  of  discovering  the  true  theory  has 
been  variously  attributed  to  Watt,  to  Cavendish,  and 
to  Lavoisier  ;  and  perhaps  no  scientific  question  has  been 
the  subject  of  more  protracted  controversy.  It  had 
been  known  for  some  years  that  a  certain  mixture  of 
inflammable  and  dephlogisticated  air  (hydrogen  and 
oxygen),  or  common  air  and  hydrogen,  could  be  fired 
by  the  electric  spark.  The  experiment  had  been  made 
by  Volta  and  Macquer  in  1776-7  ;  and  in  the  spring 
of  1781  Priestley  made  what  he  called  a  "  random  ex- 
periment" of  the  same  kind,  to  entertain  some  philo- 
sophical friends.  He  exploded  a  mixture  of  common  air 
and  hydrogen  in  a  glass  globe  by  sending  an  electric 
spark  through  it,  and  when  the  explosion  had  taken 
place  it  was  observed  that  the  sides  of  the  glass  were 
bedewed  with  moisture.  Mr.  Warltire,  a  lecturer  on 
Natural  Philosophy  at  Birmingham,1  was  present  at  the 
experiment,  and  afterwards  repeated  it  in  a  copper  flask 
for  the  purpose  of  trying  "  whether  heat  is  heavy  or 
not."  In  the  mean  time,  Mr.  Cavendish,  who  had  for 
some  years  been  occupied  in  the  special  study  of  pneu- 
matic chemistry,  and  satisfactorily  solved  the  question  of 
the  true  composition  of  atmospheric  air,  having  had  his 
attention  directed  to  Mr.  Warltire' s  experiment,  repeated 
it  in  London,  in  the  summer  of  1781,  employing  a 

1  We  find  among  the  Boulton  MSS., 
a  letter  from  Priestley,  dated  Calne, 
28th  September,  1776,  introducing 
Warltire  to  Boulton  as  follows  : — "  As 
I  know  you  will  take  pleasure  in 
everything  in  which  the  advancement 
of  science  is  concerned,  I  take  the 
liberty  to  recommend  to  you  Mr. 
Warltire,  who  has  been  some  time  in 
this  part  of  the  country,  and  who  is 
going  to  read  lectures  on  the  subject 

of  Air  at  Birmingham.  I  think  him 
an  excellent  philosopher,  as  well  as  a 
modest  and  agreeable  man.  He  is 
perfectly  acquainted  with  his  subject, 
and  has  prepared  a  set  of  experiments 
which  have  given  the  greatest  satis- 
faction wherever  he  has  been.  He 
has  been  so  obliging  as  to  spend  some 
time  with  me,  and  has  given  me  much 
assistance  in  my  late  experiments,  of 
which  he  can  give  you  some  account." 

378  WATT'S  THEORY.  CHAP.  XV11I. 

glass  vessel  instead  of  a  copper  one ;  and  again  the 
deposit  of  dew  was  observed  on  the  sides  of  the  glass. 
This  phenomenon,  which  Priestley  had  disregarded, 
appeared  to  him  to  be  of  considerable  importance,  and 
"  likely  to  throw  great  light "  upon  the  subject  of  the 
disappearance  of  oxygen  during  combustion,  which  he 
had  been  pursuing  experimentally  by  means  of  his 
well-known  eudiometer.  "  The  liquid  which  resulted 
from  the  detonations  was  very  carefully  analysed,  and 
proved  in  all  the  experiments  with  hydrogen  and  air, 
and  in  some  of  those  with  hydrogen  and  oxygen,  to  be 
pure  water ;  but  in  certain  of  the  latter  it  contained  a 
sensible  quantity  of  nitric  acid.  Till  the  source  of  this 
was  ascertained,  it  would  have  been  premature  to  con- 
clude that  hydrogen  and  oxygen  could  be  turned  into 
pure  water."  l  These  experiments,  however,  were  not 
published,  being  still  regarded  as  inconclusive.  But 
with  the  communicativeness  which  distinguishes  the 
true  man  of  science,  Cavendish  made  them  known  to 
Priestley,  and,  through  his  friend  Dr.  Blagden,  to  La- 
voisier. It  was  not  until  January,  1784,  that  he  com- 
municated the  results  of  his  long  series  of  experiments 
on  the  subject  to  the  Royal  Society. 

In  the  mean  time  Watt's  attention  had  been  directed 
to  the  same  subject  by  the  experiments  of  Priestley,  and 
he  was  led  to  the  same  conclusions  as  Cavendish,  though 
altogether  independent  of  him,  and  by  means  of  a  dif- 
ferent class  of  experiments.  We  find  him  writing  to 
Boulton,  then  at  Cosgarne,  as  follows,  in  1782  :— 

"  You  may  remember  that  I  have  often  said  that  if  water  could 
be  heated  red  hot,  or  something  more,  it  would  probably  be 
converted  into  some  kind  of  air,  because  steam  would  in  that  case 
have  lost  all  its  latent  heat,  and  that  it  would  have  been  turned 

1  Wilson's  '  Life  of  Cavendish,'  p.    Muirhead  in   his  *  Correspondence  of 
60.     In    this    work,    the    claims    of    the  late  James  Watt  on  his  Discovery 
Cavendish    are     strongly    advocated.  I  of  the  Theory  of  the  Composition  of 
The  case  in  favour  of  Watt  is  alike     Water.' 
strongly    and    ably    stated    by    Mr.  : 


wholly  into  sensible  heat,  and  probably  a  total  change  of  the 
nature  of  the  fluid  would  ensue.  Dr.  Priestley  has  proved  this  by 
experiment.  He  took  lime  and  chased  out  all  the  fixed  air,  and 
made  it  exceedingly  caustic  by  long-continued  and  violent  heat. 
He  then  added  to  it  two  ounces  of  water,  and  as  expeditiously 
as  possible  subjected  it  again  to  a  strong  heat,  and  he  obtained  two 
ounces'  weight  of  air ;  and,  what  is  most  surprising,  a  balloon  which 
he  interposed  between  the  retort  and  receiver  was  not  sensibly 
moistened,  nor  at  all  heated  that  could  be  observed.  The  air 
produced  was  but  very  little  more  than  common  air,  and  contained 
scarce  any  fixed  air.  So  here  is  a  plain  account  of  where  the 
atmospheric  air  comes  from.  The  Doctor  does  me  justice  as  to 
the  theory."  I 

The  results  of  this  experiment  were  by  no  means  con- 
clusive. That  water  was  composed,  at  least  in  part,  of 
air  or  gas  of  some  kind  was  obvious ;  but  what  the  gas 
was,  and  whether  it  existed  in  combination  with  other 
gases,  was  still  a  matter  of  conjecture.  But  Priestley, 
having  proceeded  to  repeat  Cavendish's  experiment 2  of 
exploding  a  mixture  of  oxygen  and  hydrogen  in  a  glass 
vessel,  which  was  followed  by  the  usual  deposit  of  water, 
communicated  the  fact  to  Watt,  and  this  at  once  put 
him  on  the  track  of  the  true  theory.  In  a  letter  to 
Dr.  Black,  he  communicated  the  result  of  Dr.  Priestley's 
experiments,  stating  that  "  when  quite  dry  pure  in- 
flammable air  (hydrogen)  and  quite  dry  pure  dephlo- 
gisticated  air  (oxygen)  are  fired  by  the  electric  spark  in 
a  close  vessel,  he  finds,  after  the  vessel  is  cold,  a 
quantity  of  water  adhering  to  the  vessel  equal,  or  very 

1  Watt  to  Boulton,  10th  December,  I  toujours  trouve  de  1'eau  dans  les  vases 
1782.  oil  il  avoit  brule  un  melange  de  Fair 

2  De  Luc,  Watt's  "  ami  zele,"  as  he  I  inflammable   et   d'air  atmospherique, 
described   himself,  confirms  the  fact  j  s'etoit  applique  a  decouvrir  la  source 
of  Cavendish   having,  in  1782,  com-  |  de   cette    eau,   et   qu'il   avoit   trouv£ 
municated  to  Priestley  the  nature  of    qu'un  melange   d'air  inflammable  et 
his  experiments  as  well  as  his  theory  j  d'air  deplilogistique  en  proportion  con- 
of  the   composition   of  water,   in   the  I  venable,  etant  allume  par   1'etincelle 
following  passage : — "  Vers  la  fin  de  |  electrique,  se  convertissoit  tout  entier 
1'annee   1782,   j'allai    a  Birmingham, 

oil  le  Dr.  Priestley  s'etoit  etabli  depuis 

quelques  anne'es.  II  me  communiqua 
alors  que  M.  Cavendish,  d'apres  tine 
remarque  de  M.  Warltire,  qui  avoit 


i  eau. — Je  fus  frappe  an  plus 
degre'  de  cette  de'couverte." — '  Idees 
sur  la  Me'teorologie,'  tome  2,  1787, 
pp.  206-7. 


nearly  equal,  to  the  weight  of  the  whole  air.  .  .  .  Are 
we  not  then  authorised  to  conclude,  that  water  is 
composed  of  dephlogisticated  and  inflammable  air  or 
phlogiston  deprived  of  part  of  their  latent  heat ;  and 
that  dephlogisticated  or  pure  air  is  composed  of  water 
deprived  of  its  phlogiston  and  united  to  heat  and  light ; 
and  if  light  be  only  a  modification  of  heat,  or  a 
component  part  of  phlogiston,  then  pure  air  consists  of 
water  deprived  of  its  phlogiston  or  latent  heat  ? " J 
At  the  same  time  Watt  wrote  to  Priestley,  -  who  did  not 
himself  see  the  force  of  the  experiments  as  establishing 
the  true  composition  of  water, — demonstrating  the  con- 
clusions which  they  warranted,  and  which  were  iden- 
tical with  those  already  drawn  by  Cavendish. 

Whether  Priestley  had  communicated  to  Watt  the 
theory  of  Cavendish  does  not  appear ;  but  it  is  probable 
that  both  arrived  at  the  same  conclusions  independently 
of  each  other  ;  Cavendish  from  the  result  of  his  own 
experiments,  and  Watt  from  those  of  Priestley.  Each 
was  quite  competent  to  have  made  the  discovery ;  nor  is 
it  necessary  for  the  fame  of  either  to  strip  a  leaf  of 
laurel  from  the  brow  of  the  other.  Moreover,  we  are 
as  unwilling  to  believe  that  Cavendish  would  have 
knowingly  appropriated  to  himself  the  idea  of  Watt,  as 
that  Watt  would  have  knowingly  appropriated  the  idea 
of  Cavendish.  As  it  was,  however,  Cavendish  and 
Watt  both  claimed  priority  in  the  discovery;  the 
advocates  of  Watt's  claim  resting  their  case  mainly  on 
the  fact  of  his  having  first  stated  his  views  on  the 
subject  in  writing,  in  a  letter  which  he  wrote  to  Dr. 
Priestley  for  the  purpose  of  being  read  to  the  Eoyal 
Society  in  April,  1783.  Before  that  letter  was  read, 
Watt  asked  that  it  should  be  withheld  until  the  results 
of  some  new  experiments  of  Dr.  Priestley  could  be 
ascertained.  These  proving  delusive,  Watt  sent  a 

1  Watt  to  Black,  21st  April,  1783. 




revised  edition  of  the  letter  to  his  friend  De  Luc,  in 
November,  but  the  reading  of  it  was  delayed  until  the 
29th  April,  1784,  before  which  time,  on  the  15th 
January,  Cavendish's  paper  on  the  same  subject  had 
been  communicated  to  the  Society.  Watt  was  much 
annoyed  at  the  circumstance,  and  alleged  that  Cavendish 
had  been  guilty  of  "  plagiarism."  At  a  late  period 
of  his  life,  when  all  bitter  feelings  on  the  subject  had 
subsided,  Watt  declared  himself  indifferent  to  the 
subject  of  controversy  :  "  After  all,"  said  he,  "  it  matters 
little  whether  Cavendish  or  I  discovered  the  composition 
of  water ;  the  great  thing  is,  that  it  is  discovered." 

Pneumatic  chemistry  continued  to  form  the  principal 
subject  of  discussion  at  the  Lunar  Society,  as  we  find 
from  numerous  references  in  Boulton  and  Watt's  letters. 
"  The  Lunar  Society,"  wrote  Watt  to  his  partner,  "  was 
held  yesterday  at  Mr.  Galton's  at  Barr.  It  was  rather 
dull,  there  having  been  no  philosophical  news  lately 
except  Mr.  Kirwan's  discovery  of  an  air  from  phos- 
phorus, which  takes  fire  of  itself  on  being  mixed  with 
common  or  dephlogisticated  air." 2  Among  Watt's 
numerous  scientific  correspondents  was  M.  Berthollet, 
the  eminent  French  chemist,  who  communicated  to 
him  the  process  he  had  discovered  of  bleaching  by 
chlorine.  Watt  proceeded  to  test  the  value  of  the  dis- 
covery by  experiment,  after  which  he  recommended  his 
father-in-law,  Mr.  Macgregor,  of  Glasgow,  to  make  trial 
of  it  on  a  larger  scale.  This,  however,  was  postponed 

1  That  Watt  felt  keenly  on  the 
subject,  is  obvious  from  his  letter  to 
Mr.  Fry  of  Bristol  (15th  May,  1784), 
wherein  he  says, — "  I  have  had  the 
honour,  like  other  great  men,  to  have 
had  my  ideas  pirated.  Soon  after  I 
wrote  my  first  paper  on  the  subject, 
Dr.  Blagden  explained  my  theory  to 
M.  Lavoisier  at  Paris;  and  soon  after 
that,  M.  Lavoisier  invented  it  himself, 
and  read  a  paper  on  the  subject  to  the 
Royal  Academy  of  Sciences.  Since 

that,  Mr.  Cavendish  has  read  a  paper 
to  the  Royal  Society  on  the  same  idea, 
without  making  the  least  mention  of 
me.  The  one  is  a  French  financier ;  and 
the  other  a  member  of  the  illustrious 
house  of  Cavendish,  worth  above 
100,OOOZ.,  and  does  not  spend  1000Z.  a 
year.  Rich  men  may  do  mean  actions. 
May  3'ou  and  I  always  persevere  in 
our  integrity,  and  despise  such  doings." 
2  Watt  to  Boulton,  20th  September, 



until  Watt  himself  could  find  time  to  superintend  it  in 
person.  At  the  end  of  1787,  we  find  him  on  a  visit- 
to  Glasgow  for  the  purpose,  and  writing  Boulton  that 
he  is  making  ready  for  the  trial.  "  I  mean,"  he  writes, 
"  to  try  it  to-morrow,  though  I  am  somewhat  afraid 
to  attack  so  fierce  and  strong  a  beast.  There  is  almost 
no  bearing  the  fumes  of  it.  After  all,  it  does  not  appear 
that  it  will  prove  a  cheap  way  of  bleaching,  and  it 
weakens  the  goods  more  than  could  be  wished,  whatever 
good  it  may  do  in  the  way  of  expedition."1  The  experi- 
ment succeeded,  and  we  find  Mr.  Macgregor,  in  the 
following  February,  "engaged  in  whitening  1500  yards 
of  linen  by  the  process."  The  discovery,  not  being 
protected  by  a  patent,  was  immediately  made  use  of  by 
other  firms ;  but  the  offensive  odour  of  the  chlorine  was 
found  exceedingly  objectionable,  until  it  was  discovered 
that  chlorine  could  be  absorbed  by  slaked  lime,  the 
solution  of  which  possessed  great  bleaching  power,  and 
this  process  in  course  of  time  superseded  all  the  old 
methods  of  bleaching  by  chlorine. 

It  has  been  recently  surmised  that  the  action  of  light 
upon  nitrate  of  silver  formed  the  subject  of  discussion  at 
the  Lunar  Society,  and  of  experiments  by  Boulton  and 
Watt ;  but  we  find  no  indications  of  this  in  their  cor- 
respondence. They  were  so  unreserved  with  each  other 
on  all  matters  of  business  as  well  as  science  that,  had 
any  phenomena  of  so  remarkable  a  character  as  those 
which  have  issued  in  the  art  of  photography  become 
known  to  either  Boulton  or  Watt,  we  feel  confident  that 
they  must  have  formed  the  subject  of  much  personal 
discussion,  and  of  many  written  communications.  But 
both  correspondents  are  alike  entirely  silent  on  the 
subject ;  and  we  infer  that  no  such  experiments  were 
made  by  them,  or,  if  made,  that  they  led  to  no  results  !2 

1  Watt  to  Boulton,  30th  December, 
1787.     Boulton  MSS. 

2  Mr.  W.  P.  Smith,  of  the  Patent 

Museum,  raised  this  question  at  a 
meeting  of  the  Photographic  Society 
held  on  the  3rd  November,  1863. 




Among  the  many  foreigners  who  were  attracted 
by  this  distinguished  circle  of  scientific  men,  we  find 
M.  Faujas-Saint-Fond,  who  visited  Birmingham  in  the 
course  of  his  tour  in  England  in  1785,  while  the  circle 
wras  as  yet  unbroken,  and  Watt,  Boulton,  Priestley,  and 
the  rest,  w^ere  in  the  full  tide  of  business,  invention, 
and  inquiry.  Saint- Fond  had  the  pleasure  of  dining 
one  day  with  Watt  when  Dr.  Priestley  was  present, 
and  describes  in  glowing  terms  the  interest  of  their 
conversation.  "  Watt,"  he  says,  "joins  to  the  frankness 
of  a  Scotchman  the  amiability  and  kindness  of  a  man  of 
the  world.  Surrounded  by  charming  children,  well 
educated  and  full  of  talent,  he  enjoys  in  their  midst  the 
happiness  of  regarding  them  as  his  friends,  while  he 
is  almost  worshipped  by  them  as  the  best  of  fathers." 
A  subsequent  visit  which  he  paid  to  Dr.  Priestley  in 
company  with  Dr.  Withering,  leads  him  to  describe  the 

Certain  photographic  pictures  on  metal 
plates  were  found  in  Mr.  Boulton's 
library  at  Soho,  which,  it  was  sup- 
posed, had  not  been  opened  for  about 
fifty  years ;  and  it  was  accordingly 
inferred  that  these  photographs  had 
been  the  work  of  Mr.  Boulton,  or  some 
member  of  the  Lunar  Society,  about 
the  year  1791.  One  of  them  was  sup- 
posed to  be  a  view  of  Soho  House 
"  before  the  alterations,  which  were 
made  previous  to  1791."  But  the 
evidence  is  very  defective,  as  has  been 
clearly  shown  by  M.  P.  W.  Boulton, 
Esq.,  the  grandson  of  Mr.  Boulton, 
in  his  *  Remarks  concerning  certain 
Photographs  supposed  to  be  of  early 
Date'  (Bradbury  and  Evans,  1804). 
Instead  of  having  been  closed  for  fifty 
years,  the  room  in  which  the  pictures 
were  found,  was  in  constant  use,  and 
the  books  were  freely  accessible.  It 
is  also  very  doubtful  whether  the 
house  represented  in  one  of  the  pic- 
tures is  old  Soho  House ;  the  strong 
probability  being  that  it  is  not,  but  a 
house  still  standing  at  Winson  Green. 
The  explanation  given  by  Mr.  M.  P.  W. 
Boulton  seems  to  be  the  true  one — 
that  the  room  in  question  having  been 

by  a  Miss  Wilkinson,  an  expe- 
rimenter in  photography  after  its  in- 
vention by  Niepce,  these  photographs 
were  merely  the  results  of  her  first 
amateur  experiments  in  the  art.  The 
late  Mr.  Murdock,  son  of  William 
Murdock  of  Soho,  who  lived  in  the 
immediate  neighbourhood,  was  also  a 
very  good  photographist,  and  was 
accustomed  to  meet  Miss  Wilkinson 
to  make  experiments  in  the  new  art. 

There  can  be  no  doubt  that  the 
Wedgwoods  of  Etruria,  more  particu- 
larly Josiah's  son  Thomas,  as  well  as 
Humphry  Davy,  were  early  engaged 
in  experimenting  on  the  action  of  light 
upon  nitrate  of  silver,  but  they  wholly 
failed  in  fixing  the  pictures.  A  letter, 
dated  "  January,  1799,"  is  quoted  in 
the '  Photographic  Journal '  for  Jan.  15, 
1864,  as  from  James  Watt  to  Josiah 
Wedgwood  (which  must  be  an  error, 
as  Josiah  died  in  1795),  in  which  the 
following  words  occur  :  —  "  1  thank 
you  for  your  instructions  respecting 
the  silver  pictures,  about  which,  when 
at  home,  1  will  make  some  experi- 
ments." If  such  experiments  were 
really  made,  we  have  been  unable  to 
find  any  record  of  them. 


philosopher's  house  at  Fairhill,  then  about  a  mile  and  a 
half  from  Birmingham.  "  It  is,"  he  says,  "  a  charming 
residence,  with  a  fine  meadow  on  one  side,  and  a  beauti- 
ful garden  on  the  other.  There  was  an  air  of  perfect 
neatness  about  the  place  within  and  without."  He 
describes  the  Doctor's  laboratory,  in  which  he  conducted 
his  experiments,  as  "situated  at  the  extremity  of  a 
court,  and  detached  from  the  house  to  avoid  the  danger 
of  fire." 

"  It  consists  of  several  apartments  on  the  ground  floor.  On 
entering  it,  I  was  struck  with  the  sight  of  a  simple  and  ingenious 
apparatus  for  making  experiments  on  inflammable  gas  extracted 
from  iron  and  water  reduced  to  vapour.  It  consisted  of  a  tube, 
tolerably  long  and  thick,  made  out  of  one  piece  of  copper  to  avoid 
soldering.  The  part  exposed  to  the  fire  was  thicker  than  the  rest. 
He  introduced  into  the  tube  cuttings  or  filings  of  iron,  and  instead 
of  letting  the  water  fall  into  it  drop  by  drop,  he  preferred 
introducing  it  as  vapour.  The  furnace  was  fired  by  coke  instead  of 
coal,  this  being  the  best  of  combustibles  for  intensity  and  equality 
of  heat.  .  .  .  Dr.  Priestley  kindly  allowed  me  to  make  a  drawing  of 
his  apparatus  for  the  purpose  of  communicating  it  to  the  French 
chemists  who  are  engaged  in  the  same  investigations  as  himself. 
.  .  .  The  Doctor  has  embellished  his  rural  retreat  with  a  philo- 
sophical cabinet,  containing  all  the  instruments  necessary  for  his 
scientific  labours ;  as  well  as  a  library,  containing  a  store  of  the  most 
valuable  books.  He  employs  his  time  in  a  variety  of  studies. 
History,  moral  philosophy,  and  religion,  occupy  his  attention  by 
turns.  An  active,  intelligent  mind,  and  a  natural  avidity  for 
knowledge,  draw  him  towards  the  physical  sciences ;  but  a  soft  and 
impressible  heart  again  leads  him  to  religious  and  philanthropic 
inquiries.  ...  I  had  indeed  the  greatest  pleasure  in  seeing  this 
amiable  savant  in  the  midst  of  his  books,  his  furnaces,  and  his 
philosophical  instruments;  at  his  side  an  educated  wife,  a  lovely 
daughter,  and  in  a  charming  residence,  where  everything  bespoke 
industry,  peace,  and  happiness." l 

Only  a  few  years  after  the  date  of  this  visit,  while 
Priestley  was  still  busied  with  his  chemical  investiga- 
tions, his  house  at  Fairhill,  thus  described  by  Saint- 

1  '  Voyage  en  Angleterre,  en  Ecosse,  et  aux  lies  Hebrides.'     Par  B.  Faujas- 
Saint-Fond.     2  vols.     Paris,  1797. 


Fond,  was  invaded  by  a  brutal  mob,  who  ruthlessly 
destroyed  his  library,  his  apparatus,  and  his  furniture, 
and  forced  him  to  fly  from  Birmingham,  glad  to  escape 
with  his  life. 

The  Lunar  Society  continued  to  exist  for  some  years 
longer.  But  one  by  one  the  members  dropped  off. 
Dr.  Priestley  emigrated  to  America ;  Dr.  Withering, 
Josiah  Wedgwood,  and  Dr.  Darwin,  died  before  the 
close  of  the  century ;  and,  without  them,  a  meeting 
of  the  Lunar  Society  was  no  longer  what  it  used  to 
be.  Instead  of  an  assembly  of  active,  inquiring  men, 
it  was  more  like  a  meeting  of  spectres  with  a  Death's 
head  in  the  chair.  The  associations  connected  with  the 
meeting — reminding  the  few  lingering  survivors  of 
the  losses  of  friends — became  of  too  painful  a  character 
to  be  kept  alive ;  and  the  Lunar  Society,  like  the  mem- 
bers of  which  it  was  composed,  gradually  expired.  Its 
spirit,  however,  did  not  die.  The  Society  had  stimulated 
inquiry,  and  quickened  the  zeal  for  knowledge  of  all 
who  had  come  within  the  reach  of  its  influence ;  and 
this  spirit  diffused  and  propagated  itself  in  all  directions. 
Leonard  Homer,  who  visited  Soho  in  1809,  thus  referred 
to  the  continued  moral  influence  of  the  association : — 
"  The  remnant  of  the  Lunar  Society,"  he  says,  "  and  the 
fresh  remembrance  in  others  of  the  remarkable  men  who 
composed  it,  are  very  interesting.  The  impression 
which  they  made  is  not  yet  worn  out,  but  shows  itself, 
to  the  second  and  third  generation,  in  a  spirit  of  scien- 
tific curiosity  and  free  inquiry,  which  even  yet  makes 
some  stand  against  the  combined  forces  of  Methodism, 
Toryism,  and  the  love  of  gain." l 

1  Homer's  *  Memoirs  and  Correspondence,'  ii.  2. 




THE  manufacture  of  counterfeit  money  was  very  common 
at  Birmingham  about  the  middle  of  last  century, — so 
common,  indeed,  that  it  had  become  an  almost  recognised 
branch  of  trade.  The  machinery  which  was  capable  of 
making  a  button  with  a  device  and  letters  stamped  upon 
one  side  of  a  piece  of  metal,  was  capable,  with  a  few 
modifications,  of  making  a  coin  with  a  device  arid  letters 
stamped  upon  both  sides.  It  was  as  easy  to  counterfeit 
one  kind  of  coin  as  another — gold  and  silver,  as  well  as 
copper ;  the  former  only  requiring  a  little  extra  skill  in 
manipulation,  to  which  the  button-makers  were  found 
fully  equal. 

The  profits  of  this  illegal  trade  were  of  course  very 
large ;  and  so  long  as  the  coiners  could  find  a  vend  for 
their  productions,  they  went  on  producing.  But  at 
length  the  public,  smarting  from  many  losses,  acquired 
sufficient  experience  to  detect  the  spurious  issues  of  the 
Birmingham  mints ;  and  when  an  unusually  bright 
shilling  or  guinea  was  offered,  they  had  little  difficulty 
in  pronouncing  upon  its  "  Brummagem  " l  origin.  But 
though  profitable,  the  prosecution  of  this  branch  of 
business  was  by  no  means  unattended  with  risks.  While 
some  who  pursued  it  on  a  large  scale  contrived  to 
elevate  themselves  among  the  moneyed  class,  others, 
less  fortunate,  secured  an  elevation  of  a  very  different 
kind, — one  of  the  grimmest  sights  of  those  days  being 

1  The  word  "  Brummagem "  doubtless  originated  in  the  numerous  issues 
of  counterfeit  money  from  the  Birmingham  minis. 


the  skeletons  of  convicted  coiners  dangling  from  gibbets 
on  Hands  worth  Heath.1 

The  production  of  counterfeit  gold  and  silver  coins 
came  to  be  avoided  as  too  dangerous ;  but  the  pro- 
duction of  counterfeit  copper  money  continued  active  at 
Birmingham  down  to  the  middle  of  last  century,  when 
numerous  illegal  mints  were  found  in  active  operation. 
A  Royal  proclamation  was  issued  on  the  12th  July, 
1751,  warning  the  coiners  against  the  consequences  of 
their  illegal  proceedings ;  and  shortly  after,  the  Solicitor 
for  the  Mint  went  down  to  Birmingham,  and  had  many 
of  the  more  noted  offenders  tried,  convicted,  and  sen- 
tenced to  two  years'  imprisonment.  The  principal 
manufacturers  and  traders  of  the  town  met  and  passed 
strong  resolutions,  condemning  the  practice  of  illegal 
coining ;  but  the  evil  still  continued ;  and  in  1753  it 
was  estimated  that  not  less  than  half  the  copper  coin 
in  circulation  was  counterfeit.  This  disgraceful  state  of 
the  coinage  suggested,  and  partly  justified,  companies, 
firms,  and  local  bodies,  in  circulating  copper  coinages  of 
their  own.  These  were  followed  by  provincial  pence 
and  halfpence,  which  were,  in  their  turn,  counterfeited 
by  pieces  of  baser  metal.  Most  of  the  new  copper  coins 
of  all  sorts,  good  and  bad,  were  executed  at  Birming- 
ham ;  and  thus  coining  shortly  became  one  of  the  leading 
branches  of  business  there. 

Boulton,  as  the  owner  of  the  largest  and  best-equipped 
manufactory  in  the  neighbourhood,  might  have  done 
any  amount  of  coining  that  he  desired ;  but  the  dis- 
reputable character  of  the  business  deterred  him  from 
entering  upon  it,  and  he  refused  all  orders  for  coun- 
terfeit money,  whether  for  home  or  abroad.2  He  took 

1  The  punishment  for  this  crime  was 
sometimes  of  a  very  brutal  character. 
In  March,  1789,  a  woman,  convicted  of 
coining-  in  London,  was  first  strangled 
by  the  stool  being  taken  from  under 
her,  and  then  fixed  to  a  stake  and 

burnt  before  the  debtor's  door  at  New- 

2  "  I  lately  received  a  letter  from  a 
Jew  about  making  for  him  a  large 
quantity  of  base  money,  but  I  should 
be  sorry  ever  to  become  so  base  as  to 

2  c  2 


an  active  part  in  the  measures  adopted  by  the  leading 
manufacturers  to  prevent  illegal  coining  ;  and  the 
interest  which  he  felt  in  commercial  questions  gene- 
rally continued  to  keep  his  attention  directed  to  the 
subject.  One  of  the  greatest  evils  of  debased  coin- 
age, in  his  opinion,  consisted  in  the  serious  losses  that 
it  occasioned  to  the  labouring  people ;  many  of  the 
lower  classes  of  traders  and  manufacturers  buying  coun- 
terfeit money  from  the  coiners  at  half  its  current  value, 
and  paying  it  in  wages  at  full  value,  thereby  wronging 
and  defrauding  the  workmen  of  their  hire.  He  came 
to  the  conclusion  that  the  public  interest  imperatively 
required  that  the  whole  of  the  so-called  copper  coinage 
in  circulation  should  be  swept  away  and  superseded 
by  the  issue  of  new  coins,  the  intrinsic  value  and  supe- 
rior workmanship  of  which  should  be  so  palpable  as 
effectually  to  suppress  counterfeiting  and  its  numerous 
evils.  He  had  many  interviews  with  the  ministers  of 
state  on  the  subject ;  and  we  find  him  alleging  in  one 
of  his  letters  to  a  friend  that  "his  principal  reason  for 
turning  coiner  was  to  gratify  Mr.  Pitt  in  his  wishes 
to  put  an  end  to  the  counterfeiting  of  money." * 

Other  circumstances,  doubtless,  concurred  in  keeping 
his  attention  directed  to  the  subject.  Thus,  he  had 
become  largely  interested  in  the  copper-trade  of  Corn- 
wall through  the  shares  he  held  in  the  mines  as  well  as 
in  the  Copper  Mining  Company ;  and  he  was  himself  a 
large  holder  of  copper,  which  he  had  purchased  from 
that  Company  at  a  time  when  they  could  not  dispose  of 
it  elsewhere.  It  was  also  one  of  his  favourite  ideas  to 
apply  the  power  of  the  steam-engine  to  the  stamping 

execute  such  orders.  On  the  contrary 
I  have  taken  some  measures  to  put  a 
stop  to  the  execution  of  them  by 
others,  and  if  Mr.  Butcher  hath  any 
plan  of  that  sort  he  would  do  well  to 
guard  against  me  ;  as  I  certainly  shall 
endeavour  all  in  my  power  to  prevent  j 

the  counterfeiting  of  British  or  other 
money — that  being  the  principle  on 
which  I  am  acting." —  Boulton  to 
Matthews,  December,  1787. 

1  Boulton  to  Woodman,  13th  No- 
vember, 1789. 


of  money, — an  idea  of  which  he  has  the  exclusive  merit. 
As  early  as  1774,  Watt  says  Boulton  had  many  con- 
versations with  him  on  the  subject ;  but  it  was  not  until 
the  year  1786  that  he  successfully  applied  the  engine 
for  the  first  time  in  executing  his  contract  with  the  East 
India  Company  for  above  a  hundred  tons  of  copper 
coin.  James  Watt,  in  his  MS.  memoir  of  his  friend 
Boulton,  gives  the  following  account  of  the  origin  of 
his  connexion  with  the  coining  business  : — 

"  When  the  new  coinage  of  gold  took  place  in  178-,  Mr.  Boulton 
was  employed  to  receive  and  exchange  the  old  coin,  which  served  to 
revive  his  ideas  on  the  subject  of  coinage,  which  he  had  long 
considered  to  be  capable  of  great  improvement.  Among  other 
things,  he  conceived  that  the  coin  should  all  be  struck  in  collars,  to 
make  it  exactly  round  and  of  one  size,  which  was  by  no  means 
the  case  with  the  ordinary  gold  pieces ;  and  that,  if  thus  made,  and 
of  one  thickness,  the  purity  of  the  gold  might  be  tested  by  passing 
it  through  a  gauge  or  slit  in  a  piece  of  steel  made  exactly  to  fit  a 
properly  made  coin.  He  had  accordingly  a  proof  guinea  made,  with 
a  raised  border,  and  the  letters  en  creux,  somewhat  similar  to  the 
penny  pieces  he  afterwards  coined  for  Government.  This  com- 
pletely answered  his  intention,  as  any  piece  of  baser  metal  which 
filled  the  gauge  was  found  to  be  considerably  lighter ;  or,  if  made 
to  the  proper  weight,  then  it  would  not  go  through  the  gauge. 
Such  money  was  also  less  liable  to  wear  in  the  pocket  than  the 
common  coin,  where  all  the  impression  was  prominent.  The 
proposals  on  this  head  were  not  however  approved  by  those 
who  then  had  the  management  of  His  Majesty's  Mint,  and  there 
the  matter  rested  for  the  time. 

"  In  1786  Mr.  Boulton  and  I  were  in  France,  where  we  saw  a 
very  fine  crown-piece  executed  by  Mr.  P.  Droz  in  a  new  manner. 
It  was  coined  in  a  collar  split  into  six  parts,  which  came  together 
when  the  dies  were  brought  in  contact  with  the  blank,  and  formed 
the  edge  and  the  inscription  upon  it.  Mr.  Droz  had  also  made 
several  improvements  in  the  coining-press,  and  pretended  to 
others  in  the  art  of  multiplying  the  dies.  As,  to  his  mechanical 
abilities,  Droz  joined  that  of  being  a  good  die-sinker,  Mr.  Boulton 
contracted  with  him  to  come  over  to  England  at  a  high  salary  and 
work  at  Soho,  Mr.  B.  having  then  the  prospect  of  an  extensive 
copper  coinage  for  the  East  India  Company  as  well  as  a  probability 
of  one  from  Government.  In  anticipation  of  this  contract,  a  number 
of  coining-presses  were  constructed,  and  a  steam-engine  was  applied 
to  work  them. 




"  Mr.  Droz  was  found  to  be  of  a  very  troublesome  disposition. 
Several  of  his  contrivances,  being  found  not  to  answer,  were  obliged 
to  be  better  contrived  or  totally  changed  by  Mr.  Boulton  and  his 
assistants.  The  split  collar  was  found  to  be  difficult  of  execution, 
and  being  subject  to  wear  very  soon  when  in  use,  it  was  consequently 
unfit  for  an  extensive  coinage.  Other  methods  were  therefore 
invented  and  applied  by  Mr.  Boulton,  and  the  use  of  Droz's  collar 
was  entirely  given  up." l 

Although  the  machinery  of  the  "  Hotel  de  Monnaie," 
which  Boulton  erected  at  Soho,  was  found  sufficient  for 
the  execution  of  his  contract  with  the  East  India  Com- 
pany, its  action  was  "violent  and  noisy,"  and  did  not 
work  to  his  satisfaction.  He  accordingly,  with  his  usual 
determination  to  reach  the  highest  degree  of  mechanical 
perfection,  proceeded  to  remodel  the  whole  of  his  coining 
machinery,  in  the  course  of  which  he  introduced  many 
entirely  new  contrivances  and  adaptations.  In  this  he 
was  ably  assisted  by  William  Murdock,  Peter  Ewart, 
James  Lawson,  and  John  Southern ;  but  he  himself  was 
throughout  the  leading  spirit,  and  took  the  principal 
part  of  the  work.  He  originated  numerous  essential 
improvements  in  the  rolling,  annealing,  and  cleaning 
of  the  metal, — in  the  forging,  multiplying,  and  tem- 
pering of  the  dies, — and  in  the  construction  of  the 
milling  and  cutting-out  machines, — which  were  worked 
out  in  detail  by  his  assistants,  after  various  trials, 
examined  and  tested  by  himself;  while  the  arrangement 
and  methodising  of  the  system  of  coining — in  a  word, 
the  organisation  of  the  mint — was  entirely  his  own 
work.  "  To  his  indefatigable  energy  and  perseverance," 
wrote  Murdock  many  years  later,  "  in  pursuit  of  this, 
the  favourite  and  nearly  the  sole  object  of  the  last 
twenty  years  of  the  active  part  of  Mr.  Boulton's  life, 

1  Watt  says